“No saint, no pope, no general, no sultan, has ever had the power that a filmmaker has; the power to talk to hundreds of millions of people for two hours in the dark.”
– Frank Capra
This week there were two birthdays of men connected professionally and philosophically. Both men passed away in the 1990’s, but their impact on me, and many others, continues to linger.
Frank Capra was born in Italy on May 18th, almost 120 years ago, in 1897. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was six years old. He would become one of America’s most talented film directors.
Eleven years (and two days) after Capra, the man who would become one of the most beloved actors of all time, Jimmy Stewart was born on the 20th of May, 1908.
Both of them separately made huge contributions to American cinema. Frank Capra’s biggest accomplish came early when his film It Happened One Night (1934) won 5 Academy Awards. Other classics include Meet John Doe (1941), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and one of my favorite Cary Grant movies, Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).
It was early in his career that Jimmy Stewart won his one Academy Award (of five nominations) for The Philadelphia Story (1940). Among Stewart’s many extraordinary films were four he made with Alfred Hitchcock: Rope (1948), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and my favorite Hitchcock movie Rear Window (1954).
Together Stewart and Capra formed both a close personal and professional relationship. Out of that professional relationship came three inspirational movies. The first in 1938, You Can’t Take It With You, won the Best Picture for that year. In 1939 the two teamed together again to make the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Lastly there’s one of the most admired films of all time, and my personal all time favorite movie (see my favorite 25 films), It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).
Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra believed in those “old fashioned” values: love God, love your country, love your neighbor as yourself. It’s the values that celebrate common, ordinary individuals, those who struggle every day simply to do good, to do the right thing, whether or not anyone is watching.
I continue to learn from their work, and their lives.
I’ve often blogged about movies and how much I love storytelling. The inspiration and even insight I find in my favorite characters and films. Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life is a vivid reminder that most of us have no idea of how our lives, however simple, can have a huge impact on the many people in our circle of influence.
It’s been said that Capra’s films were his “love letters to America.”
Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra loved America and all the freedoms, opportunities and blessings that it has given to so many. Each of them volunteered for service during WWII. Capra had also served during WWI.
I’m thankful for the creative talents of the many people who come together to create the movies. It’s not just wonderful entertainment. Along with the drama that speaks to hopes and dreams, it’s the way characters reflect traits I see in myself, strengths and weaknesses. Especially for many men I think, we aren’t very good at self-evaluation. Often as a film plays out before me, I find myself processing ideas, thinking about something in my life that I’m working through.
Stories in books and films have always been helpful for me to look at myself and reveal an understanding I wasn’t able to put together before.
One thing I take away from some of Capra’s and Stewart’s films is an appreciation of providence. You don’t get to choose where you were born. And a big part of my ongoing development of an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ is being thankful for the blessings of being born in America.
“Someone should keep reminding Mr. Average Man that he was born free, divine, strong; uncrushable by fate, society, or hell itself; and that he is a child of God, equal heir to all the bounties of God; and that goodness is riches, kindness is power, and freedom is glory. Above all, every man is born with an inner capacity to take him as far as his imagination can dream or envision-providing he is free to dream and envision.”
― Frank Capra, The Name Above The Title