Frank Russell Capra (May 18, 1897–September 3, 1991) was an Academy Award winning Italian-American film director and a major creative force behind a number of highly popular films of the 1930s and 1940s, including It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
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 Scott and San Francisco. However, while at the Presidio, he became ill with Spanish flu and was medically discharged with rank of second lieutenant on December 13.
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 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 March 5, 1936, Capra was also host of the 8th Academy Awards ceremony.
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.
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 for better or for worse has become a genre of its own is largely Frank Capra's legacy.
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.
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. His great-grandchildren include Asa Capra, screenwriter Chanel Capra, actor Francis Capra and Ava Capra.
MATINEE IDYLL `MAJESTIC' IS A CAPRAESQUE PAEAN TO SMALL-TOWN GOODNESS AND AMERICAN FREEDOM.(LIFE & LEISURE)(Movie review)
Dec 21, 2001; Byline: ROGER EBERT UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE ``The Majestic'' is a proud, patriotic hymn to America, sung in a key that may make...
Something for the adults; Nicolas Cage's Capraesque life-swop tale infuses William Russell with measured seasonal cheer
Dec 21, 2000; The Family Man (12) 126 mins. Directed by Brett Ratner Pokemon 2: The Power of One (PG) 102 mins. Directed by Michael Haigney...