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Frank Capra 1897-1991
 


Country : Bisacquino, Sicily, Italy
Profession : Film Director
Date of birth : 1897-05-18
Date of death : 1991-09-03
Cause of Death : Heart Attack

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Frank Capra - Porträt

Frank Russell Capra (May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-American film director and a major creative force behind a number of highly popular films of the 1930s and 1940s, including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946).

Early life

Born Francesco Rosario Capra in Bisacquino, Sicily, Italy, Capra and his family—his father Salvatore, his mother Rosaria Nicolosi, and his siblings Giuseppa, Giuseppe, and Antonia—immigrated to the United States in 1903.

In California the family met with Benedetto Capra (the oldest sibling) and settled in Los Angeles. Frank Capra attended Manual Arts High School there. In 1918, Frank Capra graduated from Throop Institute (now the California Institute of Technology) with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering.

During World War I, Capra enlisted in the United States Army on October 18, 1918. He taught ballistics and mathematics to artillerymen at Fort Winfield Scott in the Presidio of San Francisco. While there, he caught Spanish flu and was medically discharged with rank of second lieutenant on December 13, 1918.

He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1920, adopting the name Frank Russell Capra.

Film career

Capra began as a prop man in silent films. However, he wrote and directed silent film comedies starring Harry Langdon and the Our Gang kids. Capra went to work for Mack Sennett in 1924 and then moved to Columbia Pictures, where he formed a close association with screenwriter Robert Riskin (husband of Fay Wray) and cameraman Joseph Walker. However, Sidney Buchman replaced Riskin as writer in 1940.

For the 1934 film It Happened One Night, Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy were originally offered the roles, but each felt that the script was poor, and Loy described it as one of the worst she had ever read, later noting that the final version bore little resemblance to the script she and Montgomery were offered. After Loy, Miriam Hopkins and Margaret Sullavan also each rejected the part. Constance Bennett wanted to, but only if she could produce it herself. Then Bette Davis wanted the role, but she was under contract with Warner Brothers and Jack Warner refused to loan her to Columbia Studios. Capra was unable to get any of the actresses he wanted for the part of Ellie Andrews, partly because no self-respecting star would make a film with only two costumes. Harry Cohn suggested Claudette Colbert to play the lead role. Both Capra and Clark Gable enjoyed making the movie; Colbert did not. After the 1934 film It Happened One Night, Capra directed a steady stream of films for Columbia Pictures, intended to be inspirational and humanitarian.

The best known are Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, the original Lost Horizon, You Can't Take It with You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It's a Wonderful Life. His ten-year break from screwball comedy ended with the comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. Among the actors who owed much of their early success to Capra were Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant and Donna Reed. Capra called Jean Arthur "[his] favorite actress".

Capra's films in the 1930s enjoyed success at the Academy Awards. It Happened One Night was the first film to win all five top Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay). In 1936, Capra won his second Best Director Oscar for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; in 1938 he won his third Director Oscar in five years for You Can't Take It with You, which also won Best Picture. In addition to his three directing wins, Capra received directing nominations for three other films (Lady for a Day, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It's a Wonderful Life). On May 5, 1936, Capra was also host of the 8th Academy Awards ceremony.

World War II

Frank Capra was commissioned as a major in the United States Army Signal Corps during World War II. He produced State of the Union and directed or co-directed eight documentary propaganda films between 1942 and 1948, including the seven-episode U.S. government-commissioned Why We Fight series—consisting of Prelude to War (1942), The Nazis Strike (1942), The Battle of Britain (1943), Divide and Conquer (1943), Know Your Enemy: Japan (1945), Tunisian Victory (1945), and Two Down and One to Go (1945)—as well as produced the African-American targeted The Negro Soldier (1944). Why We Fight is widely considered a masterpiece of propaganda and won an Academy Award. Prelude to War won the 1942 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Capra regarded these films as his most important works. As a colonel, he received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945.

Post-war

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) was considered a box office disappointment but it was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Sound Recording and Best Editing. The American Film Institute named it one of the best films ever made, putting it at the top of the list of AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers, a list of what AFI considers to be the most inspirational American movies of all time. The film also appeared in another AFI Top 100 list: it placed at 11th on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies list of the top American films.

Capra's final theatrical film was with Glenn Ford and Bette Davis, named Pocketful of Miracles (1961). He planned to do a science fiction film later in the decade but never got around to pre-production. Capra produced several science-related television specials for the Bell Labs, such as Our Mr. Sun (1956), Hemo the Magnificent (1957), The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays (1957), and Meteora: The Unchained Goddess (1958). These educational science documentaries were popular favorites for showing in school science classrooms.

In 1982, the American Film Institute honored Frank Capra with television film The American Film Institute Salute to Frank Capra, hosted by Jimmy Stewart. In 1986, Capra received the National Medal of Arts.

Autobiography

In 1971, Capra published his autobiography, The Name Above the Title. Uncompromising in its details, it offers a compelling self-portrait. It is, however, not considered to be entirely reliable as regards dates and facts; one commentator asserts that it "appears to have been a lie practically from beginning to end".

Capra was also the subject of a 1991 biography by Joseph McBride entitled Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. McBride challenges many of the impressions left by Capra's autobiography.

Personal life

Capra was a Republican who was active in the anti-Communist cause and also donated funds to the Human Life Amendment PAC.

His son Frank Capra, Jr. — one of the four children born to Capra's second wife, Lou Capra — was the president of EUE Screen Gems Studios, in Wilmington, North Carolina, until his death on December 19, 2007. Frank Capra's grandson is Frank Capra III. Frank Capra I's eldest of 11 great grandchildren, Hannah, was born in 1993.

Death and legacy

Frank Capra died in La Quinta, California, of a heart attack in his sleep in 1991 at the age of 94. He was interred in the Coachella Valley Cemetery in Coachella, California.

He left part of his 1,100-acre (4 km2) ranch in Fallbrook, California, to Caltech. The Cinema Archives, run by film historian Jeanine Basinger, at Wesleyan University contain the personal papers of Capra.

Style

Capra films usually carry a definite message about the basic goodness of human nature and show the value of unselfishness and hard work. His wholesome, feel-good themes have led some to call his Capra-corn, but those who hold his vision in high regard prefer the term Capraesque. It may be argued that much of the 'feel-good' type of cinema, which has become a genre of its own, is largely Frank Capra's legacy.

Awards and honours

Academy Awards

Capra was nominated six times for Best Director and six times for Outstanding Production/Best Picture.

Year

Film

Award

Winner

1933

Lady for a Day

Best Director

Frank Lloyd - Cavalcade

1933

Lady for a Day

Outstanding Production

Winfield Sheehan - Cavalcade

1934

It Happened One Night

Best Director

yesY

1934

It Happened One Night

Outstanding Production

yesY With Harry Cohn

1936

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Best Director

yesY

1936

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Outstanding Production

Hunt Stromberg - The Great Ziegfeld

1937

Lost Horizon

Outstanding Production

Henry Blanke - The Life of Emile Zola

1938

You Can't Take It With You

Best Director

yesY

1938

You Can't Take It With You

Outstanding Production

yesY

1939

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Best Director

Victor Fleming - Gone with the Wind

1939

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Outstanding Production

David O. Selznick - Gone with the Wind

1943

Prelude to War

Best Documentary

yesY

1944

The Battle of Russia

Best Documentary, Features

Desert Victory

1946

It's a Wonderful Life

Best Director

William Wyler - The Best Years of Our Lives

1946

It's a Wonderful Life

Best Motion Picture

Samuel Goldwyn - The Best Years of Our Lives

American Film Institute

  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)
    • It's a Wonderful Life...# 20
    • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington...# 26
    • It Happened One Night...# 46
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers
    • It's a Wonderful Life...# 1
    • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington...# 5
    • Meet John Doe...# 49
    • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town...# 83
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs
    • It Happened One Night...# 8
    • Arsenic and Old Lace...# 30
    • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town...# 70
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions
    • It's a Wonderful Life...# 8
    • It Happened One Night...# 38
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains
    • 50 greatest movie heroes
    • It's a Wonderful Life...George Bailey ...# 9
    • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington...Jefferson Smith ...# 11
    • 50 greatest movie villains
    • It's a Wonderful Life...Mister Potter ...# 6
  • AFI's 10 Top 10
    • Fantasy
      • It's a Wonderful Life...# 3
    • Romantic Comedies
      • It Happened One Night...# 3

United States National Film Registry

  • The Strong Man (1926)
  • It Happened One Night (1934)
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
  • Why We Fight (1942)
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Filmography

Year  ↓

Title  ↓

Production Co.  ↓

Cast  ↓

Notes  ↓

Silent films

1922

Fultah Fisher's Boarding House

Fireside Productions

 

Short film

1926

The Strong Man

Harry Langdon Corporation

Harry Langdon

 

1927

Long Pants

Harry Langdon Corporation

Harry Langdon

 

1927

For the Love of Mike

Robert Kane Productions

Claudette Colbert / Ben Lyon

 

1928

That Certain Thing

Columbia

Viola Dana

 

1928

So This is Love?

Columbia

Shirley Mason

 

1928

The Matinee Idol

Columbia

Bessie Love / Johnny Walker

 

1928

The Way of the Strong

Columbia

Mitchell Lewis / Alice Day / William Norton Bailey

 

1928

Say It with Sables

Columbia

Helene Chadwick / Francis X. Pushman / Margaret Livingston

 

1928

Submarine

Columbia

Jack Holt / Ralph Graves / Dorothy Revier

 

1928

The Power of the Press

Columbia

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

 

1928

The Burglar

Mack Sennett

 

Short film / Co-directed with Phil Whitman

Sound films

1929

The Younger Generation

Columbia

Ricardo Cortez

Talking sequences

1929

The Donovan Affair

Columbia

Jack Holt

 

1929

Flight

Columbia

Jack Holt / Ralph Graves

 

1930

Ladies Of Leisure

Columbia

Barbara Stanwyck / Ralph Graves

 

1930

Rain or Shine

Columbia

Joe Cook

 

1931

Dirigible

Columbia

Jack Holt / Ralph Graves / Fay Wray

 

1931

The Miracle Woman

Columbia

Barbara Stanwyck

 

1931

Platinum Blonde

Columbia

Loretta Young / Robert Williams / Jean Harlow

 

1932

Forbidden

Columbia

Barbara Stanwyck / Adolphe Menjou

 

1932

American Madness

Columbia

Walter Huston

Co-directed with Allan Dwan / Roy William Neill

1933

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Columbia

Barbara Stanwyck / Nils Asther

 

1933

Lady for a Day

Columbia

Mary Robson / Warren William / Guy Kibbee

 

1934

It Happened One Night

Columbia

Clark Gable / Claudette Colbert

 

1934

Broadway Bill

Columbia

Warner Baxter / Myrna Loy

 

1936

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Columbia

Gary Cooper / Jean Arthur

 

1937

Lost Horizon

Columbia

Ronald Colman / Jane Wyatt

 

1938

You Can't Take It with You

Columbia

Lionel Barrymore / Jean Arthur / James Stewart

 

1939

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Columbia

James Stewart / Jean Arthur

 

1941

Meet John Doe

Frank Capra Productions

Gary Cooper / Barbara Stanwyck

 

1943

The Nazis Strike

 

 

Documentary / Short film / Co-directed with Anatole Litvak

1943

Divide and Conquer

U.S. War Department

 

Documentary / Co-directed with Anatole Litvak

1943

The Battle of Britain

Warner Bros.

 

Documentary / Co-directed with Anthony Veiller

1943

Prelude to War

U.S. War Department

 

Documentary / Co-directed with Anatole Litvak

1943

The Battle of Russia

U.S. War Department

 

Documentary / Co-directed with Anatole Litvak

1944

The Battle of China

U.S. War Department

 

Documentary / Co-directed with Anatole Litvak

1944

Tunisian Victory

U.S. War Department

 

Documentary / Co-directed with Hugh Stewart

1944

Arsenic and Old Lace

Warner Bros.

Cary Grant / Priscilla Lane

 

1945

Your Job in Germany

 

 

Documentary / Short film

1945

Know Your Enemy: Japan

U.S. War Department

 

Documentary / Co-directed with Joris Ivens

1945

Two Down and One to Go

U.S. War Department

 

Documentary / Short film

1945

War Comes to America

U.S. War Department

 

Documentary / Co-directed with Anatole Litvak

1946

It's a Wonderful Life

Liberty Films

James Stewart / Donna Reed

 

1948

State of the Union

Liberty Films

Spencer Tracy / Katharine Hepburn

 

1950

Riding High

Paramount Pictures

Bing Crosby

Remake of Broadway Bill

1951

Here Comes the Groom

Paramount Pictures

Bing Crosby / Jane Wyman

 

1959

A Hole in the Head

Sincap Productions

Frank Sinatra / Edward G. Robinson

First color film

1961

Pocketful of Miracles

Franton Production

Glenn Ford / Hope Lange / Bette Davis

Eastmancolor film

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