Biography of Frank Capra

Frank Capra was born in Sicily, but his family emigrated to the United States at the age of 5 and settled in Los Angeles in a neighborhood that Capra once described as an "Italian ghetto." After graduating from the California Institute of Technology, Capra joined the army, but was soon discharged after contracting the Spanish flu. After years of living in poverty, Capra lied his way into the silent film industry, writing for Hal Roach's Our Gang show and working closely with the comedian Harry Langdon. With the advent of talkies, Capra began to direct, helming The Younger Generation in 1929. His close working relationship with producer Harry Cohn helped to propel his career, and It Happened One Night in 1934 was his first major success.

Indeed, the 1930s were Capra's decade. After It Happened One Night won all five of the major Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress, Capra became a star director, known for his ease with the screwball comedy genre. His other films from the 1930s include Broadway Bill, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lady for a Day, and You Can't Take it With You. He won the Academy Award for Best Director three times in a span of five years, a notable achievement, and even hosted the ceremony in 1936. In 1939, he directed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a patriotic but controversial film. During WWII, Capra reenlisted in the army, a patriotic decision that many attribute to his status as an immigrant.

In 1946, Capra directed what became perhaps his best-known film, It's a Wonderful Life, a Christmas fable about an American everyman who learns how to appreciate what he has. It's a Wonderful Life marks Capra's final major success, and his particular storytelling style became less and less resonant with post-war America. As the years went on, Capra grew increasingly frustrated with what he saw as an increasingly cynical movie industry. In spite of the fact that he never recaptured the success he had in the 1930s, Capra is still celebrated today as one of the most influential American directors, praised for his clarity in storytelling, his thoughtful attention to tempo, his hands-off directing style, and his wholesome and undiluted belief in an "American dream."

Study Guides on Works by Frank Capra

It Happened One Night is a pre-Code romantic comedy beloved for its charm, its picaresque style, and the glowing performances of its two stars, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. It is considered to be one of the first "screwball comedies," a...

It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas fantasy film from 1946, written by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Frank Capra, among others. Indeed, many people contributed to the script, including Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and...