A Short Biography of Director Frank Capra


Frank Capra was born in Palermo, Sicily, May 19, 1897. He emigrated to America with his parents in 1903. They lived in Los Angeles where an older brother previously settled. He sold newspapers, graduated from Manual Arts High School, worked his way through college and graduated 1918 with a degree in chemical engineering.


He joined the Army in World War I and taught math to artillery officers. After the war, he worked at different jobs, began making short films in San Francisco in 1922, became an editor and gag writer for Bob Eddy, then moved to Hollywood to work for Hal Roach and Mack Sennett. His first big film success was The Strong Man starring Harry Langdon in 1926

He signed a contract with the small "Poverty Row" studio Columbia Pictures led by Harry Cohn and Sam Briskin, and made That Certain Thing and Columbia's first sound picture The Submarine in 1928:
"Everybody in Hollywood was scared to death of sound but I knew all about sound waves from freshman physics."

He married Lucille Reyburn in 1932 and made American Madness with script by Robert Riskin about a banker played by Walter Huston who made loans based on people's character but who is ruined by
the Depression until the people rally behind him to save the bank ( the same plot as the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life)

Capra joined the Academy and sought to make an "arty" film that would earn him an Academy award, made the Bitter Tea of General Yen starring Barbara Stanwyck with photography by Joseph Walker,
was the first film to be shown in the new Radio City Music Hall movie palace, but it failed at the box office

The 1933 film Lady For A Day was a success and earned 4 Academy nominations

It Happened One Night in 1934 was based on the "Night Bus" story by Samuel Hopkins Adams and starred Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable with crisp dialogue by Riskin, photography by Walker, and
fast-paced editing by Capra, especially in the bus singing scene where he allowed the actors to behave normally and join in the singing of "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze." The film gave birth to the new genre of the romantic comedy and on February 27, 1935, earned 5 Academy awards, pulling Columbia out of "Poverty Row."



Mr. Deeds Goes To Town in 1936 with Jimmy Stewart as Deeds

Lost Horizon in 1937 cost $2 million

You Can't Take It With You in 1938

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington in 1939 with Stewart as Smith



Capra left Columbia in 1939 and formed his own production company with Riskin, made Meet John Doe in 1941 with Stewart as ex-baseball pitcher John Willoughby who defeats newspaper owner D.B. Norton

The film Arsenic And Old Lace was started in 1941 but interrupted by the outbreak of war, would not be released until 1944



In 1942, Prelude to War was released as the first of the seven Why We Fight films that Capra made for the War Department in World War II

In 1945 he formed Liberty Films with Sam Briskin and William Wyler and George Stevens. The trademark for the new company was the ringing Liberty Bell that was a prominent image in Capra's Why We Fight war films. Under a contract to produce films for RKO, Capra made It's A Wonderful Life in 1946 and State Of The
Union in 1948 with Katharine Hepburn as wealthy newspaper owner who promotes Spencer Tracy for the presidency.



Paramount bought Liberty Films in 1948 and Capra made Broadway Bill in 1950 with Bing Crosby, and Here Comes The Groom in 1951 also with Crosby and the hit song "In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The
Evening."

Capra stopped making Hollywood films and did a science series for television in the 1950's. He testified in secret hearings before HUAC and named names.

The 1959 A Hole In The Head starred Frank Sinatra and the hit song "High Hopes" and was Capra's first color and CinemaScope production. He made the less successful Pocketful Of Miracles in 1961 starring Glenn Ford and Bette Davis.



Capra devoted several years to writing his autobiography The Name Above The Title published in 1971.

In 1982 he was awarded the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. Lucille died in 1984 and Frank Capra suffered a stroke in 1985 and remained in poor health until his death September 3, 1991.





Tramp, Tramp, Tramp 1926 (Silent) Harry Langdon, Joan Crawford
The Strong Man 1926 (Silent) Harry Langdon
Long Pants 1927 (Silent) Harry Langdon
For the Love of Mike 1927 (Silent) Claudette Colbert
The Way of the Strong 1928 (Silent)
That Certain Thing 1928 (Silent) Ralph Graves
Submarine 1928 (Silent) Ralph Graves, Jack Holt
So This Is Love? 1928 (Silent)
Say It With Sables 1928 (Silent)
The Power of the Press 1928 (Silent) Douglas Fairbank, Jr.
The Matinee Idol 1928 (Silent) Johnnie Walker
The Younger Generation 1929

Flight 1929 (Silent) Jack Holt, Ralph Graves
The Donovan Affair 1929 (Silent) Jack Holt
Rain or Shine 1930 (Silent)
Ladies of Leisure 1930 (Silent) Barbara Stanwyck, Ralph Graves
Platinum Blonde 1931 Jean Harlow
The Miracle Woman 1931 Barbara Stanwyck
Dirigible 1931
Forbidden 1932
American Madness 1932
Lady for a Day 1933
The Bitter Tea of General Yen 1933 Barbara Stanwyck
It Happened One Night 1934 Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert
Broadway Bill 1934
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 1936 Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur
Lost Horizon 1937 Ronald Coleman
You Can't Take It With You 1938 Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939 Jimmy Stewart, Jean Artur
Meet John Doe (1941) 1941 Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck
Arsenic and Old Lace 1944 Cary Grant




It's a Wonderful Life 1946 Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed
State of the Union 1948 Spencer Tracy, Kathryn Hepburn
Riding High 1950 Bing Crosby
Here Comes the Groom 1951 Bing Crosby
A Hole in the Head 1959 Frank Sinatra
Pocketful of Miracles 1961 Glenn Ford, Bette Davis


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