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Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola was born in Detroit, Michigan, but grew up in Queens, New York. As a young boy he turned out 8mm features edited from home movies with such titles as The Rich Millionaire and The Lost Wallet. A bout with polio left him almost paralyzed for a year at age nine -- and bedridden, he developed an interest in comic books, puppetry, ventriloquism and television. The son of composer and musician Carmine Coppola, young Francis was trained for a career in music and became so proficient on the tuba that he won a musical scholarship to the New York Military Academy.

Coppola's early interest in the arts led to a major in theatre at New York's Hofstra University and an MFA in film from UCLA. Coppola entered Hoffstra University in 1955 where he tackled the arts vigorously both in and out of the classroom. He was elected president of The Green Wig, the university's drama group, and the Kaleidoscopians, its musical comedy club, and then merged the two into The Spectrum Players. Under his leadership, they staged a new production each week. Coppola also founded the cinema workshop at Hofstra, contributed to the campus literary magazine, won three D.H. Lawrence Awards for theatrical production and direction, and received the Beckerman Award for his outstanding contributions to the school's theatre arts division.

After earning his B.A. in theatre arts in 1959, Coppola enrolled at UCLA for graduate work in film. While there, he worked as an all purpose assistant to Roger Corman on a variety of modestly-budgeted but lucrative films. Coppola then wrote an English-language version of a Russian science-fiction movie, transforming it into a monster feature that American International released in 1963 as Battle Beyond the Sun. Impressed by the 24 year-old's adaptability and perseverance, Corman made Coppola the dialogue director on The Tower of London (1962), sound man for The Young Racers (1963) and associate producer of The Terror (1964).

While on location in Ireland for The Young Racers, Coppola proposed an idea that appealed to Corman's passion for thrift. On a budget of a fistful of dollars, Coppola directed in a period of just three days, Dementia 13, his first feature from his own original screenplay. Somewhat superior to the run-of-the-mill exploitation films being turned out at that time, the film recouped its shoestring expenses and went on to become a minor cult film among horror buffs. It was on the set of Dementia 13 that Coppola met Eleanor Neil, who would later become his wife, author of Notes, and director of Apocalypse Now documentary footage used in Hearts of Darkness, A FilmmakerÕs Apocalypse.

When he won the annual Samuel Goldwyn Award for the best screenplay, Pilma, Pilma, written by a UCLA student, Seven Arts hired Coppola to adapt the late Carson McCuller's novel Reflections in a Golden Eye as a vehicle for Marlon Brando. This led him to assignment on Patton (with Edmund H. North), the film for which he won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. During the next four years, Coppola was involved with further production work and script collaborations, including writing an adaptation of This Property is Condemned by Tennessee Williams (with Fred Coe and Edith Sommer), and a screenplay for Is Paris Burning? (with Gore Vidal).

In 1966 Coppola directed his second film You're a Big Boy Now, which brought him critical acclaim and a Master of Fine Arts Degree. He then directed the motion picture adaptation of the Broadway musical Finian's Rainbow, followed by another original work, The Rain People, grand prize winner at the 1970 San Sebastian International Film Festival.

In 1969 Coppola and George Lucas established American Zoetrope, an independent film production company based in San Francisco. The establishment of American Zoetrope created opportunities for other filmmakers, including John Milius, Carroll Ballard and John Korty. At Zoetrope, Coppola produced THX-1138 and American Graffiti, directed by Lucas. American Graffiti received five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.

In 1971 Coppola's film The Godfather became one of the highest-grossing movies in history, and brought him an Oscar for writing the screenplay with Mario Puzo. The film received an Academy Award for Best Picture, and a Best Director nomination. Coppola's next film, The Conversation (1974) was honored with the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Also in 1974, Coppola wrote the screenplay for The Great Gatsby, and The Godfather Part II was released. This rivaled its predecessor as a high-grosser at the box office and won six Academy Awards. Coppola won Oscars as the Best Producer, Director and Writer. No sequel before or since has ever been so honored.

Coppola then began his most ambitious film, Apocalypse Now. This acclaimed movie won a Golden Palm Award from the Cannes Film Festival and two Academy Awards. He was nominated for producer, director and writing Oscars. In 1979, Coppola executive produced the hit The Black Stallion.

During the 1980s, Coppola directed and co-wrote One From the Heart, produced and directed The Outsiders, produced, directed and co-wrote Rumble Fish and The Cotton Club, directed Peggy Sue Got Married, executive produced and directed Gardens of Stone, and directed Tucker: The Man and his Dream. The Godfather Part III was released on Christmas Day 1990.

With George Lucas, Coppola executive produced Kagemusha, directed by Akira Kurosawa, and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, directed by Paul Schraeder and based on the life and writings of Yukio Mishima. Coppola also executive produced The Escape Artist, Hammett, The Black Stallion Returns, Barfly, Lionheart, Tough Guys Don't Dance and Wind.

Coppola recently directed Bram Stoker's Dracula and was the executive producer of The Secret Garden. He also produced Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and executive produced Don Juan De Marco and My Family/Mi Familia, directed by Gregory Nava. Most recently, Coppola directed Jack starring Robin Williams.

He also directed The Rainmaker.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2002.

Francis Ford Coppola Facts

BirthdayApril 7, 1939 (84)
BirthplaceDetroit, Michigan, USA
Height6' (1m83)  How tall is Francis Ford Coppola compared to you?
Awards1980 Golden Globe Awards: Best Director - Motion Picture (for Apocalypse Now)
1975 Academy Awards: Best Director (for The Godfather Part II)
1973 Golden Globe Awards: Best Director - Motion Picture (for The Godfather)

Selected Filmography

The Godfather
The Outsiders
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Collection
Apocalypse Now
The Conversation
John Grisham's The Rainmaker
Bram Stoker's Dracula
Finian's Rainbow
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