The Name Above the Title - Frank Capra
The Name Above The Title
An Autobiography of Frank Capra
By Frank Capra
New York, Macmillan
513 pages, illustrated.
Capra's autobiography reads almost like one of his classic films; the struggle against odds, the affirmation of fame and the love of a good woman; the tumble and fight of misfortune; and the deprecating humor to make the lows bearable and the highs not too ego-inflating. It is also a straight-forward narrative of being an immigrant kid from Italy who nurses a fearsome drive to succeed, and the unruly world of classic Hollywoood that allowed creative people from the good (or bad) side of the tracks to go as far as their wits, charm and luck could take them.
The most entertaining and interesting aspect of this book is the "inside" story of how individual films were made, and Capra's recollections of the performers, writers and directors who worked on them. Perhaps these facts should not all be taken at face value, though:
"At one of the innumerable tributes held for Capra after the publication of The Name Above the Title, Toastmaster Hal Kanter introduced him as "a legend in his own book." Even Capra had to laugh.
The most remarkable fact about the Name Above the Title was not that it was largely a work of fiction but that Capra succeeded so largely in passing off "autohagiography" (reviewer Elliott Stein's word) as fact. In part he succeeded because the Horatio Alger aspects of his story so compellingly evoked the American Dream..."
"When he was asked about his errors in his book, Capra quipped that they were "intentional, of course," and when asked about omissions, he conceded, 'It's not my whole life.'" From Joseph McBride's Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success, pages 648, 649. Read about McBride's book here.
Capra's intensity to be understood, and to make sense of his own success, is prevalent throughout this book.
"I hated being poor. Hated being a peasant. Hated being a scrounging news kid trapped in the sleazy Sicilian ghetto of Los Angeles. My family couldn't read or write. I wanted out. A quick out. I looked for a device, a handle, a pole to catapult myself across the tracks from my scurvy habitat of nobodies to the affluent world of somebodies.
I tried schooling, a technical education. That pole broke in the middle of my vault. I pondered other quick leaps: bootlegging, prize fighting, the ball and bat, con games. When I finally found my vaulting pole, it was not made of bamboo, glass, or metal. In fact, it was not a pole at all. It was a magic carpet -- woven with the coils and ringlets of a wondrous peel of limber plastic, whose filaments carried the genetic code of all the arts of man, and from which the abracadabra of science conjured up the hopes, the fears, the dreams of man - - the magic carpet of FILM! I faulted to fame on its witchery.
This is not truly an autobiography - - a recording of doings and happenings historically documented. Rather it is random recalls of what went on in my head during my youth and in my forty-odd years of filmmaking. "
(Above: from the preface to The Name Above the Title.)
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Original page 2001 | Updated April 2013
AMAZON: The Premiere Frank Capra Collection (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington / It Happened One Night / You Can't Take It with You / Mr. Deeds Goes to Town / American Madness / Frank Capra's American Dream)