It’s a Wonderful Life

Frank Capra was the youngest of seven children born in Italy. When he was five, he emigrated to the U.S. with his family. He and his family settled in Los Angeles. Frank, against his family’s wishes, decided to go to college at Cal Tech.

After college, Frank was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant fulfilling his ROTC obligations from college. His job in the Army was to teach mathematics, but that would soon end after he came down with the Spanish flu. He returned home and couldn’t get a job.

Considering himself a failure, he became a hobo, wandering around the western part of the U.S. He did direct a 32 minute documentary, and that became his future. From there, he became a gag writer for comedies.

Over time, he became a director. With his engineering background, Frank became one of the few directors who knew how to incorporate sound into movies. His reputation as a director grew, and he was given better scripts to direct.

Frank went on to direct films that are shown today, including:

  • It Happened One Night – the first film to win the top 5 Oscars.
  • Deeds Goes to Town – a story of a man who inherits $20 million and uses it to help others.
  • You Can’t Take It With You – a story of men from a family of rich elitists who becomes engaged to a woman with an eccentric family.
  • Smith Goes to Washington – a story of one man fighting political corruption.
  • Meet John Doe – a story designed to reaffirm American values.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life – a story of a man who has given up his personal dreams to help others.

All of these films had messages designed to inspire the audience. Today they may be derided as being feel-good movies.

When World War II began, Frank joined the Army to prove his patriotism to the country that welcomed him 39 years ago. Frank’s military assignment was to direct documentary films to explain why we were at war. While the films were meant to inspire soldiers, President Roosevelt wanted every American to see them. In total, seven films were produced. What is remarkable about Frank’s efforts was that he was a pacifist at heart.

Once World War II was over, the films that Frank Capra produced fell out of favor as America prospered. His messages of inspiration were no longer needed once the war and depression were over. It’s a Wonderful Life was a box office flop.

One of the ironies of inspirational messages are that they tend to fall out of favor when times are good. But such messages are enduring and are revisited again and again. We hang on to these messages and revisit them over our life span. All of us have music that inspires us, a poem that we revisit, a quote that we save, and stories we retell. Those who produce these inspirational messages provide us with sustainable gifts that lift us up when we are down. The films of Frank Capra will inspire us for generations.

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“I always felt the world cannot fall apart as long as free men see the rainbow, feel the rain, and hear the laugh of a child.” – Frank Capra

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.