Francis Ford Coppola

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Francis Ford Coppola : biography

7 April 1939 –

Early life

Coppola was born in Detroit, Michigan, to father Carmine Coppola, a flautist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and mother Italia (née Pennino). Francis is the second of three children: his older brother was August Coppola, his younger sister is actress Talia Shire. Born into a family of Italian immigrant ancestry, his paternal grandparents came to the United States from Bernalda, Basilicata. Coppola received his middle name in honor of Henry Ford, not only because he was born in the Henry Ford Hospital but because of his musician-father’s association with the automobile manufacturer. At the time of Coppola’s birth, his father was a flautist as well as arranger and assistant orchestra director for the "Ford Sunday Evening Hour", an hour long concert music radio series sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Two years after Coppola’s birth, his father was named principal flutist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the family moved to New York, settling in Woodside, Queens, where Francis spent the remainder of his childhood.

Contracting polio as a boy, Coppola was bedridden for large periods of his childhood, allowing him to indulge his imagination with homemade puppet theater productions. Reading A Streetcar Named Desire at age 15 was instrumental in developing his interest in theater. Eager to be involved in film-craft, he created 8mm features edited from home movies with such titles as The Rich Millionaire and The Lost Wallet. As a child, Coppola was a mediocre student, but was very much interested in technology and engineering; so much, in fact, that his friends nicknamed him “Science.” Trained initially for a career in music, he became proficient on the tuba and won a music scholarship to the New York Military Academy. Overall, Coppola attended 23 other schools before he eventually graduated from the Great Neck North High School. He entered Hofstra University in 1955 with a major in theater arts. There he was awarded a scholarship in playwriting. This furthered his interest in directing theater despite the disapproval of his father, who wanted him to study engineering. Coppola was profoundly impressed after seeing Sergei Eisenstein’s October: Ten Days That Shook the World, especially with the movie’s quality of editing. It was at this time Coppola decided he would go into cinema rather than theater. Coppola says he was tremendously influenced to become a writer early on by his brother, August, in whose footsteps he would also follow by attending both of his brother’s almae matres: Hofstra and UCLA. Coppola also gives credit to the work of Elia Kazan and for its influence on him as a director. Amongst Coppola’s classmates at Hofstra were James Caan, Lainie Kazan and radio artist Joe Frank. He would later cast Caan in The Rain People and The Godfather.

While pursuing his bachelor’s degree, Coppola was elected president of The Green Wig (the university’s drama group) and the Kaleidoscopians (its musical comedy club). He then merged the two into The Spectrum Players and under his leadership, they staged a new production each week. Coppola also founded the cinema workshop at Hofstra and contributed prolifically to the campus literary magazine. He won three D. H. Lawrence Awards for theatrical production and direction and received a Beckerman Award for his outstanding contributions to the school’s theater arts division. While a graduate student, one of his teachers was Dorothy Arzner, whose encouragement Coppola later acknowledged as pivotal to his film career.

Coppola graduated from Hofstra university in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts., UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, Executive Board

Honors

In the 2002 poll of the Sight and Sound publication, Coppola ranked #4 in the Directors’ top ten directors of all time and #10 in the Critics’ top ten directors of all time. He featured at #17 in MovieMaker Magazine’s 25 most influential directors of all-time. He also ranked #9 in toptenreviews’ list of top directors of all time and at #21 in Entertainment Weekly’s top 50 directors of all time.