Francesco Rosario Capra was born in Bisacquino, Sicily, on May 18, 1897. When he was five, his family made the 13-day trip to New York. Even though he was just a child, Frank remembered seeing “a statue of a great lady, taller than a church steeple, holding a torch above the land we were about to enter” (McBride). The Capra family eventually settled in Los Angeles, CA.
After graduating high school, Frank enrolled at the California Institute of Technology where he graduated in 1918 with a degree in chemical engineering. During World War I, Frank was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. In 1920, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and took the name Frank Russell Capra. For the next several years, Frank took on several odd jobs including working on movie sets and selling oil well stocks. His connections in Hollywood led to his interest in film making. A year later he directed his first short documentary film.
Frank’s first hit film, It Happened One Night (1934), starred Clark Gable and was the first film to win all of the top five Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). He followed this movie with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take it with You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Days after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Frank enlisted in the U.S. Army as a major. He worked throughout World War II as a director or co-director of documentary war films.
The first movie Frank directed after the war was It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). The movie was a critical success but a box office failure. Today, the movie is considered one of the best films of all time, is loved by audiences around the world, and is regularly played on television and in theaters around the Christmas season. He released his last movie, Rendezvous in Space, in 1964.