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Frank Russell Capra (born Francesco Rosario Capra; May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-born American film director, producer and writer who became the creative force behind some of the major award-winning films of the 1930s and 1940s. Born in Italy and raised in Los Angeles from the age of five, his
rags-to-riches Rags to riches refers to any situation in which a person rises from poverty Poverty is the state of not having enough material possessions or income for a person's basic needs. Poverty may include social, economic, and political elements. ''A ...

rags-to-riches
story has led film historians such as
Ian Freer Ian Freer is a British non-fiction Nonfiction (also spelled non-fiction) is any document A document is a written Writing is a medium of human communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of d ...
to consider him the "
American Dream The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North America. It ...
personified".Freer 2009, pp. 40–41. Capra became one of America's most influential directors during the 1930s, winning three
Academy Awards The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry The film industry or motion picture industry comprises the technological and commercial institutions of filmmaking, i.e., ...

Academy Awards
for
Best DirectorBest Director is the name of an award which is presented by various film, television and theatre organizations, festivals, and people's awards. It may refer to: Film awards * AACTA Award for Best Direction * Academy Award for Best Director * BAFTA ...
from six nominations, along with three other Oscar wins from nine nominations in other categories. Among his leading films were ''
It Happened One Night ''It Happened One Night'' is a 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of Screwball comedy film, screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pamper ...
'' (1934), '' Mr. Deeds Goes to Town'' (1936), '' You Can't Take It with You'' (1938), and '' Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'' (1939). During World War II, Capra served in the
U.S. Army Signal Corps ) , colors = Orange and white , colors_label = Corps colors , march = , mascot = , equipment = , equipment_label = , ...
and produced
propaganda film A propaganda film is a film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of applying paint Paint is any ...
s, such as the ''
Why We Fight ''Why We Fight'' is a series of seven documentary film A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional film, motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a Recorded ...
'' series.The War Years; From Pearl Harbor to Dachau, many of Hollywood's top directors volunteered their creative talents to help win World War II. Their films from the front left a lasting document of the often brutal fight for freedom.
Directors Guild of America The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is an entertainment guild A guild is an association of artisans and merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area. The earliest types of guild formed as organizations of tra ...
. Retrieved June 21, 2021.
After World War II, Capra's career declined as his later films, such as ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' (1946), performed poorly when they were first released. In ensuing decades, however, ''It's a Wonderful Life'' and other Capra films were revisited favorably by critics. Outside of directing, Capra was active in the
film industry The film industry or motion picture industry comprises the technological and commercial institutions of filmmaking Filmmaking (film production) is the process by which a is . Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages, sta ...
, engaging in various political and social activities. He served as President of the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS, often pronounced ; also known as simply the Academy or the Motion Picture Academy) is a professional honorary organization with the stated goal of advancing the arts and sciences of motion ...
, worked alongside the
Writers Guild of America The Writers Guild of America is the joint efforts of two different US labor unions representing TV and film writers: * The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), headquartered in New York City New York City (NYC), often simply called New ...
, and was head of the
Directors Guild of America The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is an entertainment guild A guild is an association of artisans and merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area. The earliest types of guild formed as organizations of tra ...
.


Early life

Capra was born Francesco Rosario Capra in
Bisacquino Bisacquino ( Sicilian: ''Busacchinu'') is a town and ''comune The (; plural: ) is a local administrative division of Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country cons ...

Bisacquino
, a village near
Palermo Palermo ( , ; scn, Palermu , locally also or ; la, Panormus, from grc, Πάνορμος, Pánormos; older ar, بَلَرْم‎, Balarm) is a city in southern Italy, the capital (political), capital of both the autonomous area, autonomous r ...

Palermo
,
Sicily (man) it, Siciliana (woman) , population_note = , population_blank1_title = , population_blank1 = , demographics_type1 = Ethnicity , demographics1_footnotes = , demographi ...

Sicily
,
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of Italian Peninsula, a peninsula delimited by the Alps and List of islands of Italy, several islands surrounding it, whose ...
. He was the youngest of seven children of Salvatore Capra, a fruit grower, and the former Rosaria "Serah" Nicolosi. Capra's family was Roman Catholic. The name "Capra", notes Capra's biographer Joseph McBride, represents his family's closeness to the land, and means "goat".McBride 1992, p. 16. He notes that the English word "capricious" derives from it, "evoking the animal's skittish temperament", adding that "the name neatly expresses two aspects of Frank Capra's personality: emotionalism and obstinacy." In 1903, when he was five, Capra's family emigrated to the United States, traveling in a steerage compartment of the steamship ''Germania'',-- the cheapest way to make the passage. For Capra the journey, which took 13 days, remained one of the worst experiences of his life: Capra remembers the ship's arrival in New York Harbor, where he saw "a
statue A statue is a free-standing in which the realistic, full-length figures of persons or animals are carved or in a durable material such as wood, metal or stone. Typical statues are life-sized or close to life-size; a sculpture that represent ...

statue
of a great lady, taller than a church steeple, holding a torch above the land we were about to enter". He recalls his father's exclamation at the sight: The family settled in
Los Angeles Los Angeles ( ; xgf, Tovaangar; es, Los Ángeles, , ), commonly referred to by the L.A., is the in . With a 2020 population of 3,898,747, it is the in the , following . Los Angeles is known for its , ethnic and cultural diversity, a ...

Los Angeles
's East Side (today Lincoln Heights) on avenue 18, which Capra described in his autobiography as an Italian "ghetto".McBrid
1992, p. 34.
/ref> Capra's father worked as a fruit picker and young Capra sold newspapers after school for 10 years, until he graduated from high school. Instead of working after graduating, as his parents wanted, he enrolled in college. He worked through college at the
California Institute of Technology The California Institute of Technology (Caltech)The university itself only spells its short form as "Caltech"; other spellings such a"Cal Tech" and "CalTech" are incorrect. The Institute is also occasionally referred to as "CIT", most notably i ...
, playing banjo at nightclubs and taking odd jobs like working at the campus laundry facility, waiting tables, and cleaning engines at a local power plant. He studied
chemical engineering Chemical engineering is a certain type of which deals with the study of operation and design of chemical plants as well as methods of improving production. Chemical engineers develop economical commercial processes to convert raw material into u ...
and graduated in the spring of 1918. Capra later wrote that his college education had "changed his whole viewpoint on life from the viewpoint of an alley rat to the viewpoint of a cultured person".


World War I and later

Soon after graduating from college, Capra was commissioned in the United States Army as a
second lieutenant Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer An officer is a person who holds a position of authority as a member of an armed force A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force ...
, having completed campus
ROTC The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) is a group of college- and university-based officer training programs for training commissioned officers of the United States Armed Forces. Overview While ROTC graduate officers serve in all branches ...
. In the Army, he taught mathematics to artillerymen at
Fort Point, San Francisco Fort Point is a masonry seacoast fortification located on the southern side of the Golden Gate The Golden Gate is a strait A strait is a naturally formed, narrow, typically navigable waterway that connects two larger bodies of water. Most ...

Fort Point, San Francisco
. His father died during the war in an accident (1916). In the Army, Capra contracted
Spanish flu Spanish flu, also known as the Great Influenza epidemic or the 1918 influenza pandemic, was an exceptionally deadly global influenza pandemic An influenza pandemic is an epidemic An epidemic (from Ancient Greek, Greek ἐπί ''epi'' ...
and was medically discharged to return home to live with his mother. He became a
naturalized Naturalization (or naturalisation) is the legal act or process by which a non-citizen of a country may acquire citizenship Citizenship is the status of a person recognized under the law of a country (and/or local jurisdiction) of belongi ...
U.S. citizen in 1920, taking the name Frank Russell Capra.Wakeman 1987, p. 96. Living at home with his siblings and mother, Capra was the only family member with a college education, yet he was the only one who remained chronically unemployed. After a year without work, seeing how his siblings had steady jobs, he felt he was a failure, which led to bouts of depression. Chronic abdominal pains were later discovered to have been an undiagnosed burst
appendix Appendix may refer to: In documents *Addendum, an addition made to a document by its author after its initial printing or publication *Bibliography, a systematic list of books and other works *Index (publishing), a list of words or phrases with po ...
. After recovering at home, Capra moved out and spent the next few years living in in San Francisco and hopping freight trains, wandering the Western United States. To support himself, he took odd jobs on farms, as a movie extra, playing poker, and selling local oil well stocks. During this time the 24-year-old Capra directed a 32-minute documentary film titled ''La Visita Dell'Incrociatore Italiano Libya a San Francisco''. Not only did it document the visit of the Italian naval vessel ''Libya'' to San Francisco, but also the reception given to the crew of the ship by San Francisco's L'Italia Virtus Club, now known as the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club. At 25, Capra took a job selling books written and published by American philosopher
Elbert Hubbard Elbert Green Hubbard (June 19, 1856 – May 7, 1915) was an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher. Raised in Hudson, Illinois, he had early success as a traveling salesman for the Larkin Soap Company. Hubbard is known best as th ...

Elbert Hubbard
. Capra recalled that he "hated being a peasant, being a scrounging new kid trapped in the Sicilian ghetto of Los Angeles. ... All I had was cockiness—and let me tell you that gets you a long way."Stevens 2006, pp. 74–76.


Career


Silent film comedies

During his book sales efforts—and nearly broke—Capra read a newspaper article about a new movie studio opening in San Francisco. Capra phoned them saying he had moved from Hollywood, and falsely implied that he had experience in the budding film industry. Capra's only prior exposure in films was in 1915 while attending Manual Arts High School. The studio's founder, Walter Montague, was nonetheless impressed by Capra and offered him $75 to direct a one-reel silent film. Capra, with the help of a cameraman, made the film in two days and cast it with amateurs. After that first serious job in films, Capra began efforts to finding similar openings in the film industry. He took a position with another minor San Francisco studio and subsequently received an offer to work with producer
Harry Cohn Harry Cohn (July 23, 1891 – February 27, 1958) was a co-founder, president, and production director of Columbia Pictures, Columbia Pictures Corporation. Life and career Cohn was born to a working-class Jewish family in New York City. His father ...
at his new studio in Los Angeles. During this time, he worked as a property man, film cutter, title writer, and assistant director.Wakeman 1987, p. 97. Capra later became a gag writer for
Hal Roach Harry Eugene "Hal" Roach Sr. (January 14, 1892 – November 2, 1992) was an American film and television producer, director, actor and studio executive, who was the founder of the namesake Hal Roach Studios Hal Roach Studios was an American mo ...
's ''
Our Gang ''Our Gang'' (also known as ''The Little Rascals'' or ''Hal Roach's Rascals'') is an American series of comedy Comedy (from the el, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended ...
'' series. He was twice hired as a writer for a
slapstick comedy Slapstick is a style of humor involving exaggerated physical activity that exceeds the boundaries of normal physical comedy. Slapstick may involve both intentional violence and violence by mishap, often resulting from inept use of props such a ...
director,
Mack Sennett Mack Sennett (born Michael Sinnott; January 17, 1880 – November 5, 1960) was a Canadian-American film actor, director, and producer, and studio head, known as the 'King of Comedy'. Born in Danville, Quebec, in 1880, he started in films in the ...

Mack Sennett
, in 1918 and 1924. Under him, Capra wrote scripts for comedian
Harry Langdon Harry Philmore Langdon (June 15, 1884 – December 22, 1944) was an American comedian who appeared in vaudeville, silent film A silent film is a film with no synchronized Sound recording and reproduction, recorded sound (and in particular, ...

Harry Langdon
and produced by
Mack Sennett Mack Sennett (born Michael Sinnott; January 17, 1880 – November 5, 1960) was a Canadian-American film actor, director, and producer, and studio head, known as the 'King of Comedy'. Born in Danville, Quebec, in 1880, he started in films in the ...

Mack Sennett
, the first being ''Plain Clothes'' in 1925. According to Capra, it was he who invented Langdon's character, the innocent fool living in a "naughty world"; however, Langdon was well into this character by 1925. When Langdon eventually left Sennett to make longer, feature-length movies with First National Studios, he took Capra along as his personal writer and director. They made three feature films together during 1926 and 1927, all of them successful with critics and the public. The films made Langdon a recognized comedian in the caliber of
Charlie Chaplin Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. (16 April 188925 December 1977) was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. He became a worldwide icon through his screen persona, the Tramp, and is consider ...

Charlie Chaplin
and
Buster Keaton Joseph Frank Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966), known professionally as Buster Keaton, was an Americans, American actor, comedian, film director, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer. He is best known for his silent films, in w ...

Buster Keaton
. Capra and Langdon later had a falling out, and Capra was fired. During the following years, Langdon's films went into decline without Capra's assistance. After splitting with Langdon, Capra directed a picture for First National, ''
For the Love of Mike ''For the Love of Mike'' (originally titled ''Hell's Kitchen'') is a 1927 American Silent film, silent romantic drama film. Directed by Frank Capra, it starred Claudette Colbert (in her film debut) and Ben Lyon. It is now considered to be a los ...
'' (1927). This was a silent comedy about three bickering godfathers—a German, a Jew, and an Irishman—starring a budding actress,
Claudette Colbert Claudette Colbert ( ; born Émilie Claudette Chauchoin; September 13, 1903July 30, 1996) was an American actress. Colbert began her career in Broadway theater, Broadway productions during the late 1920s and progressed to motion pictures with t ...
. The movie was considered a failure and is a
lost film A lost film is a feature film, feature or short film that is no longer known to exist in any studio archives, private collections, or public archives, such as the U.S. Library of Congress. Conditions During most of the 20th century, U.S. copyri ...
.


Columbia Pictures

Capra returned to Harry Cohn's studio, now named
Columbia Pictures Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film production Filmmaking (film production) is the process by which a Film, motion picture is #Production, produced. Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages, starting wit ...
, which was then producing short films and two-reel comedies for "fillers" to play between main features. Columbia was one of many start-up studios on "
Poverty Row Poverty Row was a slang term used in Hollywood from the 1920s through the 1950s to refer to a variety of small (and mostly short-lived) B movie studios. Although many of them were on (or near) today's Gower Street in Hollywood, the term did not ...
" in Los Angeles. Like the others, Columbia was unable to compete with larger studios, which often had their own production facilities, distribution, and theaters. Cohn rehired Capra in 1928 to help his studio produce new, full-length feature films, to compete with the major studios. Capra would eventually direct 20 films for Cohn's studio, including all of his classics. Because of Capra's engineering education, he adapted more easily to the new sound technology than most directors. He welcomed the transition to sound, recalling, "I wasn't at home in silent films." Most studios were unwilling to invest in the new sound technology, assuming it was a passing fad. Many in Hollywood considered sound a threat to the industry and hoped it would pass quickly; McBride notes that "Capra was not one of them." When he saw
Al Jolson Al Jolson (born Asa Yoelson; c. 1885 – October 23, 1950) was an American singer, comedian, and actor. Jolson was dubbed "The World's Greatest Entertainer" at the peak of his career and has been referred to by modern critics as "the king of bl ...

Al Jolson
singing in ''
The Jazz Singer ''The Jazz Singer'' is a 1927 American musical drama film In film and television show, television, drama is a category of narrative fiction (or docudrama, semi-fiction) intended to be more serious than humour, humorous in tone. Drama of th ...

The Jazz Singer
'' in 1927, considered the first talkie, Capra recalled his reaction: Few of the studio heads or crew were aware of Capra's engineering background until he began directing ''
The Younger Generation ''The Younger Generation'' is a 1929 American part-talkie drama film directed by Frank Capra and starring Ricardo Cortez. It was produced by Jack Cohn for Columbia Pictures. It was Capra's first sound film. While mostly silent, the film has ta ...
'' in 1929. The chief cinematographer who worked with Capra on a number of films was likewise unaware. He describes this early period in sound for film: During his first year with Columbia, Capra directed nine films, some of which were successful. After the first few, Harry Cohn said: "it was the beginning of Columbia making a better quality of pictures." According to Barson, "Capra became ensconced as Harry Cohn's most trusted director." His films soon established Capra as a "bankable" director known throughout the industry, and Cohn raised Capra's initial salary of $1,000 per film to $25,000 per year. Capra directed a film for MGM during this period, but soon realized he "had much more freedom under Harry Cohn's benevolent dictatorship", where Cohn also put Capra's "name above the title" of his films, a first for the movie industry. Capra wrote of this period and recalled the confidence that Cohn placed in Capra's vision and directing: Capra directed his first "real" sound picture, ''
The Younger Generation ''The Younger Generation'' is a 1929 American part-talkie drama film directed by Frank Capra and starring Ricardo Cortez. It was produced by Jack Cohn for Columbia Pictures. It was Capra's first sound film. While mostly silent, the film has ta ...
'', in 1929. It was a rags-to-riches romantic comedy about a Jewish family's upward mobility in New York City, with their son later trying to deny his Jewish roots to keep his rich, gentile girlfriend. According to Capra biographer Joseph McBride, Capra "obviously felt a strong identification with the story of a Jewish immigrant who grows up in the ghetto of New York ... and feels he has to deny his ethnic origins to rise to success in America." Capra, however, denied any connection of the story with his own life. Nonetheless, McBride insists that ''
The Younger Generation ''The Younger Generation'' is a 1929 American part-talkie drama film directed by Frank Capra and starring Ricardo Cortez. It was produced by Jack Cohn for Columbia Pictures. It was Capra's first sound film. While mostly silent, the film has ta ...
'' abounds with parallels to Capra's own life. McBride notes the "devastatingly painful climactic scene", where the young social-climbing son, embarrassed when his wealthy new friends first meet his parents, passes his mother and father off as house servants. That scene, notes McBride, "echoes the shame Capra admitted feeling toward his own family as he rose in social status". During his years at Columbia, Capra worked often with screenwriter
Robert Riskin Robert Riskin (March 30, 1897 – September 20, 1955)"Robert Riskin, Who Won 'Oscar' For 'It Happened Ohe Night,' Dies." ''New York Times.'' September 22, 1955. was an American Academy Awards, Academy Award-winning screenwriter and playwright, best ...
(husband of
Fay Wray Vina Fay Wray (September 15, 1907 – August 8, 2004) was a Canadian/American actress best remembered for starring as Ann Darrow in the 1933 film ''King Kong (1933 film), King Kong''. Through an acting career that spanned nearly six decades, Wr ...

Fay Wray
), and cameraman Joseph Walker. In many of Capra's films, the wise-cracking and sharp dialogue was often written by Riskin, and he and Capra went on to become Hollywood's "most admired writer-director team".Wakeman 1987, p. 98.


Film career (1934–1941)


''It Happened One Night'' (1934)

Capra's films in the 1930s enjoyed immense success at the
Academy Awards The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry The film industry or motion picture industry comprises the technological and commercial institutions of filmmaking, i.e., ...

Academy Awards
. ''
It Happened One Night ''It Happened One Night'' is a 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of Screwball comedy film, screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pamper ...
'' (1934) became the first film to win all five top Oscars (
Best PictureThis is a list of categories of awards commonly awarded through organizations that bestow film awards, including those presented by various film, festivals, and people's awards. Best Actor/Best Actress *See Best Actor#Film awards, Best Actress#Fi ...
,
Best DirectorBest Director is the name of an award which is presented by various film, television and theatre organizations, festivals, and people's awards. It may refer to: Film awards * AACTA Award for Best Direction * Academy Award for Best Director * BAFTA ...
,
Best Actor Best Actor is the name of an award which is presented by various film, television and theatre organizations, festivals, and people's awards to leading actors in a film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a wo ...
,
Best ActressBest Actress is the name of an award which is presented by various film, television and theatre organizations, festivals, and people's awards to leading actresses in a film, television series, television film or Play (theatre), play. The first Best A ...
, and Best Adapted Screenplay). Written by
Robert Riskin Robert Riskin (March 30, 1897 – September 20, 1955)"Robert Riskin, Who Won 'Oscar' For 'It Happened Ohe Night,' Dies." ''New York Times.'' September 22, 1955. was an American Academy Awards, Academy Award-winning screenwriter and playwright, best ...
, it is one of the first of the ''
screwball comedies Screwball comedy is a subgenre of the romantic comedy Romantic comedy (also known as romcom or rom-com) is a subgenre of comedy and slice-of-life fiction, focusing on lighthearted, humorous plot lines centered on romantic ideas, such as how ...
'', and with its release in the
Great Depression The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression An economic depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe economic downturn than a economic recession, recess ...
, critics considered it an escapist story and a variation of the ''
American Dream The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North America. It ...
''. The film established the names of Capra, Columbia Pictures, and stars
Clark Gable William Clark Gable (February 1, 1901November 16, 1960) was an American film actor, often referred to as "The King of Hollywood". He had roles in more than 60 motion pictures in multiple genres during a career that lasted 37 years, three decades ...

Clark Gable
and
Claudette Colbert Claudette Colbert ( ; born Émilie Claudette Chauchoin; September 13, 1903July 30, 1996) was an American actress. Colbert began her career in Broadway theater, Broadway productions during the late 1920s and progressed to motion pictures with t ...
in the movie industry. The film has been called "
picaresque The picaresque novel (Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (dis ...
". It was one of the earliest
road movie A road movie is a film genre A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art used to simulate experiences that communicate ideas, stories, perceptions, feelings, beauty, or atmosphere through the u ...
s and inspired variations on that theme by other filmmakers.Wakeman 1987, p. 99. He followed the film with ''
Broadway Bill ''Broadway Bill'' is a 1934 American comedy-drama Comedy-drama, or dramedy, is a genre of dramatic works that combines elements of comedy and Drama (film and television), drama. History The advent of radio drama, film, cinema and in particula ...
'' (1934), a screwball comedy about horse racing. The film was a turning point for Capra, however, as he began to conceive an additional dimension to his movies. He started using his films to convey messages to the public. Capra explains his new thinking: This added goal was inspired after meeting with a
Christian Scientist Christian Science is a set of beliefs and practices belonging to the metaphysical family of new religious movement A new religious movement (NRM), also known as a new religion or an alternative spirituality, is a religious or spirituality, ...
friend who told him to view his talents in a different way: Capra began to embody messages in subsequent films, many of which conveyed "fantasies of goodwill". The first of those was '' Mr. Deeds Goes to Town'' (1936), for which Capra won his second Best Director Oscar. Critic
Alistair Cooke Alistair Cooke (20 November 1908 – 30 March 2004) was a British-born American writer whose work as a journalist, television personality and radio broadcaster was done primarily in the United States The United States of America ...
observed that Capra was "starting to make movies about themes instead of people".Wakeman 1987, p. 100. In 1938, Capra 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 ''Lady for a Day'' is a 1933 American pre-Code '' (1931) were able to feature criminal, anti-hero protagonists. File:LegsTurntab42ndStTrailer.jpg, upright=1.5, ''42nd Street (film), 42nd Street'' (1933) made concessions to the Hays Code ...
'', '' Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'', and ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
''). On May 5, 1936, Capra hosted the 8th Academy Awards ceremony.


''Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'' (1939)

Although ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' is his best-known film, Friedman notes that it was '' Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'' (1939), which most represented the "Capra myth". That film expressed Capra's patriotism more than any others, and "presented the individual working within the democratic system to overcome rampant political corruption". The film, however, became Capra's most controversial. In his research before filming, he was able to stand close to President
Franklin D. Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the De ...

Franklin D. Roosevelt
during a press conference after the recent acts of war by Germany in Europe. Capra recalls his fears: When the filming was completed, the studio sent preview copies to Washington. Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., U.S. ambassador to the UK, wrote to Columbia head Harry Cohn, "Please do not play this picture in Europe." Politicians were concerned about the potential negative effect the film might have on the morale of the United States' allies, as
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
had begun. Kennedy wrote to President Roosevelt that, "In foreign countries this film must inevitably strengthen the mistaken impression that the United States is full of
graft Graft or grafting may refer to: *Graft (politics), a form of political corruption *Graft, Netherlands, a village in the municipality of Graft-De Rijp Science and technology *Graft (surgery), a surgical procedure *Grafting, the joining of plant tis ...
, corruption and lawlessness." Many studio heads agreed, nor did they want negative feelings about Hollywood instilled in political leaders. Nonetheless, Capra's vision of the film's significance was clear: Capra pleaded with Cohn to allow the film to go into distribution and remembers the intensity of their decision making: Cohn and Capra chose to ignore the negative publicity and demands and released the film as planned. It was later nominated for 11 Academy Awards, only winning one (for Best Original Story) partly because of the number of major pictures that were nominated that year was 10, including ''
The Wizard of Oz ''The Wizard of Oz'' may refer to: *''The Wonderful Wizard of Oz'', a 1900 American novel by L. Frank Baum **Wizard of Oz (character), from the Baum novel series The Wizard of Oz may also refer to: Adaptations of the novel Film * The Wonderful ...
'' and ''
Gone with the WindGone with the Wind may refer to: * Gone with the Wind (novel), ''Gone with the Wind'' (novel), a 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell * Gone with the Wind (film), ''Gone with the Wind'' (film), 1939 adaptation of the novel * Gone with the Wind (musical), ...
''.Barson 1995, pp. 56–63. Hollywood columnist
Louella Parsons Louella Parsons (born Louella Rose Oettinger; August 6, 1881 – December 9, 1972) was an American movie columnist and a screenwriter. She was retained by William Randolph Hearst because she had championed Hearst's mistress Marion Davies and subs ...
called it a "smash patriotic hit" and most critics agreed, seeing that audiences left the theaters with "an enthusiasm for democracy" and "in a glow of patriotism".Beauchamp 2010, pp. 364–365. The significance of the film's message was established further in France, shortly after World War II began. When the French public was asked to select which film they wanted to see most, having been told by the
Vichy government Vichy France (french: Régime de Vichy) is the common name of the French State () headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Pétain (24 April 1856 – 23 July 1951), generally known as Philippe Pétain (, ), Marshal P ...
that soon no more American films would be allowed in France, the overwhelming majority chose it over all others. To a France soon to be invaded and occupied by Nazi forces, the film most expressed the "perseverance of democracy and the
American way The American way of life or the American way refers to the American nationalist ethos that adheres to the principle of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the center of the American way is the American Dream that is achievable by any Ame ...
".


''Meet John Doe'' (1941)

In 1941 Capra directed ''
Meet John Doe ''Meet John Doe'' is a 1941 American comedy-drama, comedy-drama film directed and produced by Frank Capra, written by Robert Riskin, and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The film is about a "grassroots" political campaign created unw ...
'' (1941), which some consider Capra's most controversial movie. The film's hero, played by
Gary Cooper Gary Cooper (born Frank James Cooper; May 7, 1901 – May 13, 1961) was an American actor known for his strong, silent, and understated acting style. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor The Academy Award for Best Actor is an award prese ...

Gary Cooper
, is a former baseball player now bumming around, lacking goals. He is selected by a news reporter to represent the "
common man "Common Man" is a song written by Sammy Johns and originally recorded by him in 1981 via Elektra Records. Johns's version charted at number 50 on Hot Country Songs in 1981. It had "Easy to Be with You" on the B-side, and was produced by James Strou ...
," to capture the imagination of ordinary Americans. The film was released shortly before America became involved in World War II, and citizens were still in an
isolationist Isolationism is a category of foreign policy, foreign policies institutionalized by leaders who assert that nations' best interests are best served by keeping the affairs of other countries at a distance. One possible motivation for limiting intern ...
mood. According to some historians, the film was made to convey a "deliberate reaffirmation of American values," though ones that seemed uncertain with respect to the future. Film author Richard Glazer speculates that the film may have been autobiographical, "reflecting Capra's own uncertainties". Glazer describes how, "John's accidental transformation from drifter to national figure parallels Capra's own early drifting experience and subsequent involvement in movie making ... ''Meet John Doe'', then, was an attempt to work out his own fears and questions."Wakeman 1987, p. 101.


World War II years (1941–1945)


Joining the Army after Pearl Harbor

Within four days after the Japanese
Attack on Pearl Harbor The Attack on Pearl HarborAlso known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike In the United States Armed Forces, military of the United States, strikes and raids are a group of military operations that, alongside quite ...

Attack on Pearl Harbor
on December 7, 1941, Capra quit his successful directing career in Hollywood and received a commission as a
major Major is a military rank Military ranks are a system of hierarchical A hierarchy (from the Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) in which the items are repre ...
in the
United States Army The United States Army (USA) is the land Land is the solid surface of Earth that is not permanently submerged in water. Most but not all land is situated at elevations above sea level (variable over geologic time frames) and consists ma ...
. He also gave up his presidency of the
Screen Directors Guild The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is an entertainment guild that represents the interests of film director, film and television director, television directors in the United States motion picture industry and abroad. Founded as the Screen Directo ...
. Being 44 years of age, he was not asked to enlist, but, notes Friedman, "Capra had an intense desire to prove his patriotism to his adopted land." Capra recalls some personal reasons for enlisting:


''Why We Fight'' series

During the next four years of
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
, Capra's job was to head a special section on morale to explain to soldiers "why the hell they're in uniform", writes Capra, and were not "propaganda" films like those created by the Nazis and Japan. Capra directed or co-directed seven documentary war information films. Capra was assigned to work directly under Chief of Staff
George C. Marshall George Catlett Marshall Jr. (December 31, 1880 – October 16, 1959) was an American soldier and statesman. He rose through the United States Army The United States Army (USA) is the land military branch, service branch of the United State ...
, the most senior officer in command of the Army, who later created the
Marshall Plan The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was an American initiative enacted in 1948 to provide foreign aid to Western Europe Western Europe is the western region of Europe Europe is a continent A ...

Marshall Plan
and was awarded a
Nobel Peace Prize The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prize The Nobel Prizes ( ; sv, Nobelpriset ; no, Nobelprisen ) are five separate prizes that, according to Alfred Nobel Alfred Bernhard Nobel ( , ; 21 October 1833 – 10 Decemb ...
. Marshall chose to bypass the usual documentary film-making department,
Signal CorpsA signal corps is a military A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare War is an intense armed conflict between State (polity), states, governments, ...
, because he felt they were not capable of producing "sensitive and objective troop information films". One colonel explained the importance of these future films to Capra: During his first meeting with General Marshall, Capra was told his mission: The films included the seven-episode ''
Why We Fight ''Why We Fight'' is a series of seven documentary film A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional film, motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a Recorded ...
'' series – consisting of ''
Prelude to War ''Prelude to War'' is the first film of Frank Capra Frank Russell Capra (born Francesco Rosario Capra; May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-born American film director, producer and writer who became the creative force beh ...
'' (1942), ''
The Nazis Strike ''The Nazis Strike'' is the second film of Frank Capra's ''Why We Fight'' propaganda film series. It introduces Germany as a nation whose aggressive ambitions began in 1863 with Otto von Bismarck and the Nazis as its latest incarnation. Heartland T ...
'' (1942), '' Divide and Conquer'' (1943), ''
The Battle of Britain ''The Battle of Britain'' was the fourth of Frank Capra's ''Why We Fight'' series of seven propaganda films, which made the case for fighting and winning the Second World War. It was released in 1943 and concentrated on the German bombardment of ...
'' (1943), ''
The Battle of Russia ''The Battle of Russia'' (1943) is the fifth film of Frank Capra's ''Why We Fight'' documentary series. The longest film of the series, it has two parts. It was made in collaboration with Lithuanians, Lithuania-born Anatole Litvak as primary direct ...
'' (1943), ''
The Battle of China ''The Battle of China'' (1944) was the sixth film of Frank Capra Frank Russell Capra (born Francesco Rosario Capra; May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-born American film director, producer and writer who became the crea ...
'' (1944), ''
War Comes to America ''War Comes to America'' is the seventh and final film of Frank Capra's '' Why We Fight'' World War II propaganda film series. The early part of the film is an idealized version of American history, which mentions of the first settlements, the Am ...
'' (1945) – plus '' Know Your Enemy: Japan'' (1945), '' Here Is Germany'' (1945), ''
Tunisian Victory ''Tunisian Victory'' is a 1944 Anglo Anglo is a prefix indicating a relation to, or descent from, the Angles, England, English culture, the English people or the English language, such as in the term ''Anglo-Saxon language''. It is often us ...
'' (1945), and '' Two Down and One to Go'' (1945) that do not bear the ''
Why We Fight ''Why We Fight'' is a series of seven documentary film A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional film, motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a Recorded ...
'' banner; as well as the African Americans, African-American related film, ''The Negro Soldier'' (1944). After he completed the first few documentaries, government officials and U.S. Army staff felt they were powerful messages and excellent presentations of why it was necessary for the United States to fight in the war. All footage came from military and government sources, whereas during earlier years, many newsreels secretly used footage from enemy sources. Animated charts were created by Walt Disney and his animators. A number of Hollywood composers wrote the background music, including Alfred Newman (composer), Alfred Newman and Russian-born composer Dimitri Tiomkin. After the first complete film was viewed by General Marshall along with U.S. Army staff--and Franklin Roosevelt--Marshall approached Capra: "Colonel Capra, how did you do it? That is a most wonderful thing." FDR was effusive. "I want every American to see this motion picture. General--please make all necessary arrangements". "Prelude To War" was distributed by 20th Century-Fox, and was nationally acclaimed. Fox also released Capra's "Why We Fight" opus--"The Battle Of Russia". Released to service audiences in two-parts to accomodate hour-long periods during induction training, the nine-reel (nearly 90 minutes) epic detailed Russian history using excerpts of the great films of Eisenstein, the proceeded to the immediate history through captured Nazi newsreels and those supplied reluctantly by Stalin. The result was an emotionally-riveting experience. When he was shown the film in Moscow, Stalin was effusive and ordered one thousand 35mm prints. He was so anxious that his people should see the film that he didn't bother creating a Russian soundtrack. Capra laughed in amazement years later when re-counting the tale: "Stalin had interpreters at the side of the stage in all the theatres. They simply translated the film on the fly, yelling like hell to be heard over the music and sound effects". So positive was the film toward the Soviet Union that it was withdrawn from service and effectively banned during the McCarthy Era, a ban which continued until the 1980's. But the series was seen in theaters throughout the U.S. They were translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese for use by other countries, ironically under the aeguis of Robert Riskin.. Winston Churchill ordered that ''all'' of them be shown to the British public in theaters. They are today often broadcast on television and used as a teaching aid, now that the lid has been removed from all of Capra's government work. One of the last reopened was "Know Your Enemy: Japan" which, while incredibly powerful, was perhaps a bit too much so. It was finished after the Nazis surrendered, and was only seen briefly around the time the first atomic bombs were dropped on Japan (November 9 and 14, 1945). Then, Capra confided, we "suddenly needed friendly relations with the Japs and the film, along with several others, was locked up". So, a gem of propagandic filmmaking, as anyone who has viewed the film readily admits, was barely ever exhibited. The ''
Why We Fight ''Why We Fight'' is a series of seven documentary film A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional film, motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a Recorded ...
'' series is widely considered a masterpiece of war information documentaries, and won an Academy Award. ''
Prelude to War ''Prelude to War'' is the first film of Frank Capra Frank Russell Capra (born Francesco Rosario Capra; May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-born American film director, producer and writer who became the creative force beh ...
'' won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. When his career ended, Capra regarded these films as his most important works. He was discharged from the service in 1945 as a Colonel (United States), colonel, having been awarded the Legion of Merit in 1943, the Distinguished Service Medal (U.S. Army), Distinguished Service Medal in 1945, the World War I Victory Medal (United States), World War I Victory Medal (for his service in World War I), the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal (United States), World War II Victory Medal.Capra, Frank, COL - U.S. Army
army.togetherweserved.com. Retrieved June 21, 2021.


Post-war career (1946–1961)


''It's a Wonderful Life'' (1946)

After the war ended, along with directors William Wyler and George Stevens, Capra founded Liberty Films. Their studio became the first independent company of directors since United Artists in 1919 whose goal was to make films without interference by studio bosses. However, the only pictures completed by the studio were ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' (1946) and ''State of the Union (film), State of the Union'' (1948). The first of these was a box office disappointment but was nominated for five
Academy Awards The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry The film industry or motion picture industry comprises the technological and commercial institutions of filmmaking, i.e., ...

Academy Awards
. While the film did not resonate with audiences in 1946, its popularity has grown through the years, partly due to frequent airings during those years it was commonly known to be in the public domain. Through legal manipulation, Paramount, successor-in-interest to NTA/Republic, made a false claim of having "retrieved" the film's copyright from the public domain. (Under American law, no Work that ever enters the Public Domain may ever have it's copyright restored.) But of the literally dozens of tape purveyors selling PD copies of the film was willing to spend the money required to bring a challenge in court when the upshot of their victory would be that everyone in the business--not just himself--could exploit the film in the pubic domain. The only challenge to date, by the children and families of the actors who played the Bailey Children in the film, was settled out of court. The claims made as to song copyrights in the soundtrack protecting the film have become moot, with "California, Here I Come" lapsing into the public domain. The copyright status of Frank Capra's greatest film remains in question--and in flux. In 1998, the American Film Institute (AFI) named it one of the best films ever made, putting it at 11th on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list of the top American films of all time. In 2006, the AFI put the film at the top of its AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers list, ranking what AFI considers the most inspirational American movies of all time. It would become Capra's last film to win major acclaim—his successful years were now behind him, although he directed five more films over the next 14 years. For ''State of the Union'' (1948), Capra changed studios. It would be the only time he ever worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Although the project had an excellent pedigree with stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, the film was not a success, and Capra's statement, "I think ''State of the Union'' was my most perfect film in handling people and ideas" has few adherents today.


Representing U.S. at International Film Festival

In January 1952, the U.S. Ambassador to India asked Capra to represent the U.S. film industry at an International Film Festival to be held in India. A State Department friend of Capra asked him and explained why his trip would be important: After two weeks in India, Capra discovered that Bowles' fears were warranted, as many film sessions were used by Russian and Chinese representatives to give long political speeches. At a lunch with 15 Indian directors and producers, he stressed that "they must preserve freedom as artists, and that any government control would hinder that freedom. A totalitarian system—and they would become nothing but publicity men for the party in power." Capra had a difficult time communicating this, however, as he noted in his diary: When he returned to Washington to give his report, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave Capra his commendation for "virtually single-handedly forestalling a possible Communist take-over of Indian films". Ambassador Bowles also conveyed gratitude to Capra for "one helluva job".


Disillusionment period and later years

Following ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' and ''State of the Union (film), State of the Union,'' which were done soon after the war ended, Capra's themes were becoming out of step with changes in the film industry and the public mood. Friedman finds that while Capra's ideas were popular with depression-era and prewar audiences, they became less relevant to a prospering post-war America. Capra had become "disconnected from an American culture that had changed" during the previous decade. Biographer Joseph McBride argues that Capra's disillusionment was more related to the negative effect that the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had on the film industry in general. The HUAC interrogations in the early 1950s ended many Hollywood careers. Capra himself was not called to testify, although he was a prime target of the committee due to his past associations with many Hollywood blacklisted screenwriters. Capra blamed his early retirement from films on the rising power of stars, which forced him to continually compromise his artistic vision. He also claimed that increasing budgetary and scheduling demands had constrained his creative abilities. Film historian Michael Medved agreed with Capra, noting that he walked away from the movie business because "he refused to adjust to the cynicism of the new order."Medved 1992, p. 279. In his autobiography, written in 1971, Capra expressed his feelings about the shifting film industry: Capra added that in his opinion, "practically all the Hollywood film-making of today is stooping to cheap salacious pornography in a crazy bastardization of a great art to compete for the 'patronage' of deviates and masturbators." Capra remained employable in Hollywood during and after the HUAC hearings but chose nonetheless to demonstrate his loyalty by attempting to re-enlist in the Army at the outbreak of the Korean War, in 1950. He was rejected due to his age. He was later invited to join the Defense Department's newly formed Think Tank project, VISTA, but was denied the necessary clearance. According to Friedman, "these two rejections were devastating to the man who had made a career of demonstrating American ideals in film", along with his directing award-winning documentary films for the Army.


Later films (1950–1961)

Capra directed two films at Paramount Pictures starring Bing Crosby, ''Riding High (1950 film), Riding High'' (1950) and ''Here Comes the Groom'' (1951). By 1952, at the age of 55, Capra effectively retired from Hollywood filmmaking; he shifted to working with the California Institute of Technology, his alma mater, to produce educational films on science topics. From 1952 to 1956, Capra produced four science-related television specials in color for The Bell System Science Series: ''Our Mr. Sun'' (1956), ''Hemo the Magnificent'' (1957), ''The Bell System Science Series#The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays (1957), The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays'' (1957), and ''The Bell System Science Series#The Unchained Goddess (1958), Meteora: The Unchained Goddess'' (1958). These educational science documentaries were popular favorites for school science classrooms for around 30 years. It was eight years before he directed another theatrical film, ''A Hole in the Head'' (1959) with Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson, his first feature film in color. His final theatrical film was with Glenn Ford and Bette Davis, named ''Pocketful of Miracles'' (1961), a remake of his 1933 film ''
Lady for a Day ''Lady for a Day'' is a 1933 American pre-Code '' (1931) were able to feature criminal, anti-hero protagonists. File:LegsTurntab42ndStTrailer.jpg, upright=1.5, ''42nd Street (film), 42nd Street'' (1933) made concessions to the Hays Code ...
''. In the mid-1960s he worked on pre-production for an adaptation of Martin Caidin's novel ''Marooned (novel), Marooned,'' but budgetary constraints caused him to eventually shelve it. Capra's final film, ''Rendezvous in Space'' (1964), was an industrial film made for the Martin Marietta Company and shown at the 1964 New York World's Fair. It was exhibited at the New York Hall of Science after the Fair ended.


Directing style

Capra's directing style relied on improvisation to a great extent. He was noted for going on the set with no more than the master scenes written. He explained his reasoning: According to some experts, Capra used great, unobtrusive craftsmanship when directing, and felt it was bad directing to distract the audience with fancy technical gimmicks. Film historian and author William S. Pechter described Capra's style as one "of almost classical purity". He adds that his style relied on editing to help his films sustain a "sequence of rhythmic motion". Pechter describes its effect: Film critic John Raeburn discusses an early Capra film, ''American Madness'' (1932), as an example of how he had mastered the movie medium and expressed a unique style: As for Capra's subject matter, film author Richard Griffith tries to summarize Capra's common theme: Capra's personality when directing gave him a reputation for "fierce independence" when dealing with studio bosses. On the set he was said to be gentle and considerate, "a director who displays absolutely no exhibitionism."Wakeman 1987, p. 103. As Capra's films often carry a message about basic goodness in human nature, and show the value of unselfishness and hard work, his wholesome, feel-good themes have led some cynics to term his style "Capra-corn". However, those who hold his vision in higher regard prefer the term "Capraesque".Pendergast 2000, pp. 428–29. Capra's basic themes of championing the common man, as well as his use of spontaneous, fast-paced dialogue and goofy, memorable lead and supporting characters, made him one of the most popular and respected filmmakers of the 20th century. His influence can be traced in the works of many directors, including Robert Altman,"The Premiere Frank Capra Collection"
''DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video''; retrieved September 26, 2010.
Ron Howard, Masaki Kobayashi, Akira Kurosawa, John Lasseter, David Lynch, John Milius, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and François Truffaut.


Personal life

Capra married actress Helen Howell in 1923. They divorced in 1928. He married Lucille Warner in 1932, with whom he had a daughter and three sons, one of whom, Johnny, died at age 3 following a tonsillectomy. Capra was four times president of the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS, often pronounced ; also known as simply the Academy or the Motion Picture Academy) is a professional honorary organization with the stated goal of advancing the arts and sciences of motion ...
and three times president of the
Directors Guild of America The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is an entertainment guild A guild is an association of artisans and merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area. The earliest types of guild formed as organizations of tra ...
, which he helped found. Under his presidency, he worked to give directors more artistic control of their films. During his career as a director, he retained an early ambition to teach science, and after his career declined in the 1950s, he made educational television films related to science subjects. Physically, Capra was short, stocky, and vigorous, and enjoyed outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, and mountain climbing. In his later years, he spent time writing short stories and songs, along with playing guitar. He collected fine and rare books during the 1930s and 1940s. Six hundred and forty items from his "distinguished library" were sold by Parke-Bernet Galleries at auction in New York in April 1949, realizing $68,000 ($ today). His son Frank Capra Jr. was the president of EUE/Screen Gems, EUE Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina, until his death on December 19, 2007. His grandsons, brothers Frank Capra III and Jonathan Capra, have both worked as assistant directors; Frank III worked on the 1995 film ''The American President'', which referred to Frank Capra in the film's dialogue.


Political views

Capra's political views coalesced in his movies, which promoted and celebrated the spirit of American individualism. A American conservatism, conservative Republican Party (United States), Republican, Capra railed against
Franklin D. Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the De ...

Franklin D. Roosevelt
during his tenure as governor of New York and opposed his presidency during the years of the Depression. Capra stood against government intervention during the national economic crisis.Wilson 2013, p. 266. In his later years, Capra became a self-described pacifist and was very critical of the Vietnam War.


Religious views

Capra wrote in his early adulthood that he was a "Christmas Catholic". In his later years, Capra returned to the Catholic Church and described himself as "a Catholic in spirit; one who firmly believes that the anti-moral, the intellectual bigots, and the Mafias of ill will may destroy religion, but they will never conquer the cross".


Death

In 1985, aged 88, Capra suffered one of a series of strokes. He died in La Quinta, California, of a heart attack in his sleep in 1991 at the age of 94. He was interred at Coachella Valley Public Cemetery in Coachella, California. He left part of his ranch in Fallbrook, California, to the California Institute of Technology, to be used as a retreat center."75th Year Booklet: The Caltech Y History."
''caltechy.org.'' Retrieved: July 24, 2011.
Capra's personal papers and some film-related materials are contained in the Wesleyan University Cinema Archives, which allows scholars and media experts full access.


Legacy

During the golden age of Hollywood, Capra's "fantasies of goodwill" made him one of the two or three most famous and successful directors in the world. Film historian
Ian Freer Ian Freer is a British non-fiction Nonfiction (also spelled non-fiction) is any document A document is a written Writing is a medium of human communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of d ...
notes that at the time of his death in 1991, his legacy remained intact: Director/actor John Cassavetes contemplating Capra's contribution to film quipped: "Maybe there really wasn't an America, it was only Frank Capra." Capra's films were his love letters to an idealized America—a cinematic landscape of his own invention. The performances his actors gave were invariable portrayals of personalities developed into recognizable images of popular culture, "their acting has the bold simplicity of an icon ..." Like his contemporary, director John Ford, Capra defined and aggrandized the tropes of mythic America where individual courage invariably triumphs over collective evil. Film historian Richard Griffith speaks of Capra's "... reliance on sentimental conversation and the ultimate benevolence of ordinary America to resolve all deep conflicts."Dickstein 2010, p. 479. "Average America" is visualized as "... a tree-lined street, undistinguished frame houses surrounded by modest areas of grass, a few automobiles. For certain purposes, it assumed that all ''real ''Americans live in towns like this, and so great is the power of myth, even the born city-dweller is likely to believe vaguely that he too lives on this shady street, or comes from it, or is going to." NYU professor Leonard Quart writes: Although Capra's stature as a director had declined in the 1950s, his films underwent a revival in the 1960s: French film historian John Raeburn, editor of ''Cahiers du cinéma'', noted that Capra's films were unknown in France, but there too his films underwent a fresh discovery by the public. He believes the reason for his renewed popularity had to do with his themes, which he made credible "an ideal conception of an American national character": In 1982, the American Film Institute honored Capra by giving him their AFI Life Achievement Award. The event was used to create the television film, ''The American Film Institute Salute to Frank Capra'', hosted by James Stewart. In 1986, Capra received the List of recipients of the National Medal of Arts, National Medal of Arts. During his acceptance speech for the AFI award, Capra stressed his most important values: Capra expanded on his visions in his 1971 autobiography, ''The Name Above the Title'':


Awards and honors

The ''
Why We Fight ''Why We Fight'' is a series of seven documentary film A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional film, motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a Recorded ...
'' series earned Capra the Legion of Merit in 1943 and the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945. In 1957, Capra was awarded the George Eastman Award, given by George Eastman Museum, George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film. Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, by a vote of the city council, declared May 12, 1962 as "Frank Capra Day". George Sidney, President of the Directors Guild stated that "This is the first time in the history of Hollywood, that the city of Los Angeles has officially recognized a creative talent." At the event ceremony, director John Ford announced that Capra had also received an honorary Order of the British Empire (OBE) on the recommendation of Winston Churchill.Capra 1971, p. 488. Ford suggested publicly to Capra: In 1966, Capra was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from his alma mater Caltech. (see section "Early Life", supra) In 1972, Capra received the Golden Plate Award of the Academy of Achievement, American Academy of Achievement. In 1974, Capra was awarded the Inkpot Award. In 1975, Capra was awarded the Golden Anchor Award by the U.S Naval Reserve's Combat Camera Group for his contribution to World War II Naval photography and production of the "Why We Fight" series. The award ceremony included a video salute by President Ford. Attending were many of Capra's favorite actors including Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Pat O'Brien, Jean Arthur, and others. An annual ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' celebration that Capra attended in 1981, during which he said, "This is one of the proudest moments of my life," was recounted in ''The New Yorker''. He was nominated six times for Best Director and seven times for Outstanding Production/Best Picture. Out of six nominations for Best Director, Capra received the award three times. He briefly held the record for winning the most Best Director Oscars when he won for the third time in 1938, until this record was matched by John Ford in 1941, and then later surpassed by Ford in 1952. William Wyler also matched this record upon winning his third Oscar in 1959. The Academy Film Archive has preserved two of Capra's films, "The Matinee Idol" (1928) and "Two Down and One to Go, Two Down and One to Go!" (1945).


Academy Awards and nominations

;American Film Institute * AFI Life Achievement Award, Life Achievement Award (1982) ;Directors Guild of America * Best Director Nomination for ''A Hole in the Head'' (1959) * Life Achievement Award (1959) * Best Director Nomination for ''Pocketful of Miracles'' (1961) ;Golden Globe Award * Golden Globe Award for Best Director, Best Director Award for ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' (1946) ;Venice Film Festival * Venice Film Festival#Past awards, Mussolini Cups for best foreign film Nomination for ''
It Happened One Night ''It Happened One Night'' is a 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of Screwball comedy film, screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pamper ...
'' (1934) * Mussolini Cups for best foreign film Nomination for '' Mr. Deeds Goes to Town'' (1936) * Golden Lion (1982) ;American Film Institute recognition * AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) ** ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' ... #20 ** '' Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'' ... #26 ** ''
It Happened One Night ''It Happened One Night'' is a 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of Screwball comedy film, screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pamper ...
'' ... #46 * AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers ** ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' ... #1 ** '' Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'' ... #5 ** ''
Meet John Doe ''Meet John Doe'' is a 1941 American comedy-drama, comedy-drama film directed and produced by Frank Capra, written by Robert Riskin, and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The film is about a "grassroots" political campaign created unw ...
'' ... #49 ** '' Mr. Deeds Goes to Town'' ... #83 * AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs ** ''
It Happened One Night ''It Happened One Night'' is a 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of Screwball comedy film, screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pamper ...
'' ... #8 ** ''Arsenic and Old Lace (film), Arsenic and Old Lace'' ... #30 ** '' Mr. Deeds Goes to Town'' ... #70 * AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions ** ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' ... #8 ** ''
It Happened One Night ''It Happened One Night'' is a 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of Screwball comedy film, screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pamper ...
'' ... #38 * AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains ** 50 greatest movie heroes ** ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' ... George Bailey (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 ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' ... Mr. Potter ... #6 * AFI's 10 Top 10 ** Fantasy *** ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' ... #3 ** Romantic Comedies *** ''
It Happened One Night ''It Happened One Night'' is a 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of Screwball comedy film, screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pamper ...
'' ... #3 ;United States National Film Registry * ''The Strong Man'' (1926) * ''
It Happened One Night ''It Happened One Night'' is a 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of Screwball comedy film, screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pamper ...
'' (1934) * ''Lost Horizon (1937 film), Lost Horizon'' (1937) * '' Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'' (1939) * ''
Why We Fight ''Why We Fight'' is a series of seven documentary film A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional film, motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a Recorded ...
'' Series of seven films (1942) * ''
It's a Wonderful Life ''It's a Wonderful Life'' is a 1946 American Christmas Christmas (or the Feast of the Nativity) is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultura ...

It's a Wonderful Life
'' (1946)


Filmography


See also

* The Bell System Science Series * Diptendu Pramanick, Frank Capra at the First International Film Festival of India, 1952


Notes


References


Bibliography

* Barney, Richard A
''David Lynch: Interviews''
(Conversations with Filmmakers Series). Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2009. * Barson, Michael. ''The Illustrated Who's Who of Hollywood Directors: The Sound Era. '' New York: Noonday Press, 1995. * Beauchamp, Cari. ''Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years.'' New York: Vintage, 2010. * Brooks, Patricia and Johnathan. "Chapter 8: East L.A. and the Desert." ''Laid to Rest in California: A Guide to the Cemeteries and Grave Sites of the Rich and Famous''. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 2006. * Capra, Frank. ''Frank Capra, The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography''. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971. . :*Digitized on the HathiTrust Digital Library, Limited view (search only) . * Charlotte Chandler, Chandler, Charlotte. ''The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis, A Personal Biography''. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. * Dickstein, Morris. ''Dancing in The Dark: A Cultural History of The Great Depression.'' New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. * Dixon, Wheeler W
''The Early Film Criticism of Francois Truffaut.''
Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1993. * Freer, Ian. ''Movie Makers: 50 Iconic Directors from Chaplin to the Coen Brothers.'' London: Quercus Publishing Plc, 2009. * Kotsabilas-Davis, James and Myrna Loy. ''Being and Becoming''. New York: Primus, Donald I Fine Inc., 1987. * Lazere, Donald. ''American Media and Mass Culture: Left Perspectives.'' Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1987. * Medved, Michael. ''Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values.'' New York: HarperCollins, 1992. * Joseph McBride (writer), McBride, Joseph. ''Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success''. New York: Touchstone Books, 1992. * Oderman, Stuart. ''Talking To the Piano Player: Silent Film Stars, Writers and Directors Remember''. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2005. * Poague, Leland. ''Frank Capra: Interviews'' (Conversations With Filmmakers Series). Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2004. * Pendergast, Tom and Sara, eds. ''St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Vol. 1.'' Detroit: St. James Press, 2000. * Stevens, George Jr. ''Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age.'' New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. * * Wakeman, John, ed. ''World Film Directors: Volume One, 1890–1945.'' New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1987. * Wiley, Mason and Damien Bona. ''Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards''. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987. * Wilson, Victoria. ''A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907–1940''. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013,


External links


Capra Smith and Doe: Filming the American Hero
from American Studies at the University of Virginia * *
Bibliography

Capra before he became "Capraesque"
British Film Institute, BFI ''Sight & Sound'' magazine November 2010 article on Capra's early career, by Joseph McBride * * * * * **
Frank Capra at the 1971 San Francisco International Festival
{{DEFAULTSORT:Capra, Frank 1897 births 1991 deaths American anti-communists American electrical engineers American pacifists United States Army personnel of World War I United States Army personnel of World War II Best Directing Academy Award winners Best Director Golden Globe winners Presidents of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Presidents of the Directors Guild of America Naturalized citizens of the United States California Institute of Technology alumni American film directors of Italian descent Propaganda film directors Recipients of the Distinguished Service Medal (US Army) Italian emigrants to the United States United States National Medal of Arts recipients Burials at Coachella Valley Public Cemetery American male screenwriters Inkpot Award winners Film producers from California Italian film producers United States Army Air Forces officers First Motion Picture Unit personnel United States Army colonels Honorary Officers of the Order of the British Empire People from La Quinta, California AFI Life Achievement Award recipients Film directors from California Catholics from California Screenwriters from California Engineers from California 20th-century American engineers California Republicans 20th-century American male writers 20th-century American screenwriters Old Right (United States) United States Army Air Forces personnel of World War II