Biography of Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola is one of the foremost American directors. Over a 50 year career he has been both innovative and prolific. Born in 1939 in Detroit, MI, to Italian parents, Carmine and Italia, he was raised in Queens, NY. As a 10-year-old he contracted polio, which he has said was influential in his artistic development. During the nine months that he was confined to his bed, he experimented with a film projector and puppets. After recovering from polio, he began making home movies, taking his craft extremely seriously from day one. He then attended Hofstra University, where he studied theater, before moving on to UCLA to study film. He assisted legendary director Roger Corman while attending UCLA, eventually making his own film—Dementia 13—under Corman's tutelage. While making this film, he met his future wife, Eleanor Neil.

Not long after, Coppola began writing for a production company, and his thesis film while at UCLA was selected for the 1967 Cannes Film Festival. He next directed a film of the classic musical Finian's Rainbow, which did poorly. While working on this film he met longtime friend and collaborator George Lucas, with whom he would later start the production company American Zoetrope, which got off the ground with a loan from Warner Bros. After George Lucas' first film with American Zoetrope failed, Warner Bros. withdrew funding.

Coppola's next film was one of his most acclaimed and enduring: The Godfather, an adaptation of Mario Puzo's popular novel. During the filming of The Godfather, Coppola received an Oscar for his writing work on Patton, the 1971 film. The Godfather broke box office records, becoming the first film to earn $1 million a day at the box office during its run. The film won three Oscars including Best Picture, catapulting Coppola into the public eye. He went on to direct a sequel, which would also receive resounding acclaim. The Godfather Part II won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director for Coppola at the 1974 Oscars.

His film The Conversation was released the same year, was nominated for numerous Oscars, and won the Palm d'Or at Cannes. Its plot follows the plight of obsessive surveillance expert Harry Caul, who gets in over his head while doing surveillance on a privately-contracted adultery investigation. The film starred Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, and Teri Garr. Coppola cites Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup as his primary influence for The Conversation, and today the film is considered one of his best.

As a followup to this success, he directed Apocalypse Now, a Vietnam War film starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen. It has thematic and plot parallels with the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, and won him the Palm d'Or yet again. It took three years to shoot and faced many challenges along the way. Following the success of Apocalypse Now, Coppola took a risk, releasing a musical, One from the Heart, with his company American Zoetrope. That film went way over budget and put him in bankruptcy several times over. The remainder of his career in the 1980s was hamstrung by a bad reputation with critics and studios, even though he had some successes, such as 1983's Rumble Fish and 1986's Peggy Sue Got Married.

In the 90s, Coppola made the third Godfather film, which was met with a mixed reception, as well as Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jack, and The Rainmaker. Coppola continues to make films. He is known as one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time. Two of his children, Sofia and Roman, are successful filmmakers in their own rights.

Study Guides on Works by Francis Ford Coppola

As Francis Ford Coppola recounted in an interview with Playboy, he used to joke that he would only make a sequel to The Godfather if it were going to be Abbot and Costello Meet the Godfather. For a long time, he found the idea of creating a sequel...