Frank Capra was born Francesco Rosario Capra in Sicily, Italy in 1897, the youngest of seven children. His father was a fruit farmer. The family emigrated to the United States in 1903.
In California, they met up with their eldest son and settled in Los Angeles, where, in 1918, Capra graduated from the Throop Institute (later renamed the California Institute of Technology) with a B.S. in chemical engineering.
He joined the Army immediately upon graduation and, as a second lieutenant, taught mathematics to artillerymen. In 1919, while stationed in San Francisco, California, he contracted Spanish influenza and was soon discharged.
Capra got his start in the film business as a film editor in 1915, at the age of 18. After leaving the military, he returned to Hollywood and spent several years doing odd jobs before bluffing his way into writing and directing a short-reel for Fireside Productions based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling in 1922. He then worked as a gag writer for Mack Sennett over the next few years until his next directing opportunity in 1926 for the comedian Harry Langdon.
Over an 11 year time period, from 1933 to 1946, Capra received six Directing Oscar nominations and won three Academy Awards. His Oscar-winning films are:
His Academy Award nominated films are:
Between 1942 and 1948, Capra also produced and directed 8 war documentaries that he would later regard as his most important works.
After directing more than 45 features, Capra's final theatrical film was released in 1961.
He married the stage actress Helen Howell in 1923. They were divorced in 1927. He married his second wife, Lucille Warner, that same year. They raised four children, though one died in 1938 due to complications from a tonsillectomy. One son, Frank Capra, Jr. (1934-2007) became a film producer. Another, Tom Capra, is a television producer. His grandson, Frank Capra III, is an assistant director.
Capra’s wife passed away in 1984.
He died in La Quinta, California of a heart attack in his sleep in 1991, at the age of 94.