Frank Russell Capra (May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-born American film director, producer and writer who worked his way from Los Angeles's Italian ghetto to become the creative force behind some of the major award-winning films of the 1930s and 1940s. His rags-to-riches story has led film historians such as Ian Freer to consider him the "American dream personified."
Capra became one of America's most influential directors during the 1930s, winning three Oscars as Best Director. Among his leading films was It Happened One Night (1934), which became the first film to win all five top Oscars, including Best Picture. Other leading films included Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and State of the Union (1948). Because of his early fame as a director, his name was listed "above the title" of his films when they were publicized. People "flocked to the theaters" during the 1930s and 1940s to see films directed by Frank Capra.
After World War II, however, Capra's career declined as his subjects were more out of tune with the mood of audiences. Critics described his films as being "simplistic" or "overly idealistic." However, the public loved his films, especially during the Great Depression years, when audiences needed uplifting themes of inspiration. His pictures let viewers witness "a triumph of the individual over corrupt leaders", and experience "inherent qualities of kindness and caring for others." Most of his best works have been revived and are today considered timeless fables filled with love and respect for the struggles of the common man.
Outside directing, Capra was active within the film industry, engaging in various political and social issues. He served as President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, worked alongside the Screenwriters Guild, and was head of the Directors Guild of America. He enlisted in the Army during World War I after graduating college, and again in World War II at the peak of his career, when he directed 11 documentary war films. These included 7 for the U.S. government's Why We Fight series, winning an Academy Award for one. He earned a Distinguished Service Medal when the war ended.