Columbia Pictures celebrated the success of its first big feature, THE BLOOD SHIP, in 1927. The critics loved it and the box office sang. With their first hit and a new torch-lady logo, the studio was filled with hope for a bright future. Then fate fulfilled that hope.
Columbia Pictures hired Frank Capra – a moment in history that changed them both forever.
THE LEGACY OF FRANK CAPRA
"He now was developing his true talent for creating visual humor."
1897 FRANK CAPRA's BIRTH
Frank Capra was born in Sicily on May 18, 1897. At the age of six, his father loaded the family onto a ship bound for Ellis Island where they boarded a train for Los Angeles to build a better life. Los Angeles would provide Frank with new experiences, an education, and introduce him to the new art form of motion pictures. Capra first worked in the motion picture industry for small studios that produced cheap two-reelers.
The experience provided him with the opportunity to do everything from building sets to grip work, film editing, gag writing and directing. Although it was insignificant work for very little pay, it was gratifying enough for him to set his sights on a career in filmmaking. He continued to work for small studios and learned by doing every production task.
1921 CAPRA's FIRST FILM
He continued to work for small studios and learned by doing every production task. In 1921, he was given a budget of $1,700 for his first film titled FULTA FISHER'S BOARDING HOUSE. This one-reel silent film was only twelve minutes long, but he wrote, cast, edited, and directed it. That experience led to an opportunity to work for Hal Roach Studios as a gag writer for the OUR GANG series and then as a gag writer for Mack Sennett Studios. Capra’s film training at this point was varied but unfocused. He now was developing his true talent for creating visual humor.
1927 COHN OFFERS $1,000 FOR THE CERTAIN THING
The year 1927 proved to be an important one for Columbia Pictures and Frank Capra. Harry Cohn offered Capra $1,000 to direct a single film, THE CERTAIN THING, which he accepted on the condition that he would write and produce it as well.
THE CERTAIN THING was made on a budget of less than $20,000. To save money on location, the production crew ate the props, which were box lunches. The 69-minute silent film was a hit. Harry Cohn liked the film enough to give Capra a $1,500 bonus and offered him two more pictures at $2,500 each.
In 1928, fresh off the success of his movie THE CERTAIN THING, Frank Capra was given an assignment from Harry Cohn to take over the already-in-production film SUBMARINE from director Irwin Willat. After encountering some problems with the initially hostile crew, Capra swiftly transformed a potential disaster into the studio’s biggest grossing film to that point. SUBMARINE was Columbia’s first-ever release to include sound effects.
1929 CAPRA's CAREER TAKES OFF
Capra directed numerous successful films for Columbia Pictures, such as THE DONOVAN AFFAIR (1929), FLIGHT (1929), DIRIGIBLE (1931), PLATINUM BLONDE (1931), LADIES OF LEISURE (1930), and THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1933). In 1932, Capra established his signature style with the comedy-drama AMERICAN MADNESS.
1933 NOMINATED FOR BEST DIRECTOR
A year later, Capra’s newest film, LADY FOR A DAY, was Oscar®-nominated for Best Picture. The movie was an endearing comedy about a fruit seller who, with the help of a gambler, pretends to be royalty for a day to impress her daughter’s fiancé. In conjunction with the growing success of LADY FOR A DAY, Capra was also nominated for Best Director.
1934 COLUMBIA's FIRST OSCAR
Capra’s streak of success continued with IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), which won Columbia Pictures its first Oscar® for Best Picture at the Academy Awards®. The warmth, humor, and keen observation displayed in Capra’s directing also helped the film win Oscars® for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
1936 CAPRA'S CAREER PROSPERS
For the duration of the 1930s, Capra’s career at Columbia prospered. His films MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936), LOST HORIZON (1937), and YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938), scripted by his favorite writer Robert Riskin, combined the elements of both comedy and social comment to outstanding effect. YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU won three more Oscars®.
1939 CAPRA's FILM RECEIVES NOTABLE CONTROVERY
Performed and directed with passion and emotional honesty, Capra’s 1939 film, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, was met with a mixture of strong praise from movie critics and vilification from notable politicians. The ensuing controversy brought an end to Capra’s prestigious twelve-year association with Harry Cohn and Columbia Pictures.