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Frank Capra

(1897—1991) Italian-born American film director


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(1897–1991)

Italian-born US film director, known for his many film comedies of the 1930s.

Born in Palermo, Sicily, Capra was taken to the USA by his parents. He studied chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and served in the army during World War I. A variety of jobs followed, before he managed to talk himself into directing the short film adaptation of Kipling's Fultah Fisher's Boarding House (1922). Thereafter he entered the film business full-time, working in a film lab, as a propman, film editor, and gag writer until he joined comedian Harry Langdon (1884–1944) as director.

In 1928 he was taken on by Columbia Pictures, for whom he created a whole series of film comedies. Among these were It Happened One Night (1934), Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and You Can't Take It With You (1938), all Oscar winners. Lost Horizon (1937) and Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) were other examples of Capra's underlying theme of human goodness triumphing against all odds. His films found large audiences during the depressed thirties.

He then formed his own company, making Meet John Doe (1941) and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). After World War II, during which the first in his documentary series Why We Fight won an Oscar, he co-founded Liberty Films with William Wyler (1902–81) and others. Although this period produced It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and State of the Union (1948), Capra's career ended with less successful sentimental remakes of his own movies. Nonetheless, Capra won six Oscars in all and was the first president of the Directors' Guild; his autobiography, aptly entitled The Name Above The Title, was published in 1971.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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