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Francis Ford Coppola

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Updated June 30, 2006

by Kimberly Read

Francis Ford Coppola, born April 7, 1939, is a world renowned filmmaker. He is known for his work as a director, producer, composer, and writer. Coppola hails from a family very active in entertainment. His father, Carmine Coppola, attended Julliard and was a flautist in the NBC Symphony as well as a music arranger for the Ford Sunday Evening Hour on CBS radio (the source of Frances’ middle name). Italia Pennino, Coppola’s mother, also had been an actress. His younger sister, Talia Shire, is an actress with the roles of Adrian in Rocky and Connie Corleone in The Godfather Trilogy credited to her career. Nicolas Cage is his nephew.

Coppola’s interest in entertainment began quite young. Having contracted polio at age ten and suffering some paralysis, he was bedridden for almost a year. During that time, he watched a great deal of television, hosted puppet shows and toyed with film making using his father’s 8 mm camera. Because he was a proficient tuba player, Coppola initially attended the New York Military Academy at Cornwallon-Hudson. However, he did not like this school and returned to public high school where his interest in play writing began. His competence as a young playwright gained him a scholarship to Hofstra University where he received his BA in Theater Arts. He later completed a Masters degree from the UCLA film school.

Mr. Coppola has a number of incredibly stunning, successful movies to his credit. These include such classics as Patton, The Godfather Trilogy, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now. The success of just these few movies garnered fourteen Academy Award nominations and five Oscars for Coppola. However, he has a much longer list of movies that were less than stellar in some cases and complete disasters in others.

More than one biographical author has referred to Francis Coppola’s career as Phoenix in nature. Wesley Morris entitled his article about Coppola’s rework of Apocalypse Now as "The Phoenix" (Morris, 2002). The biography from Hollywood.com notes, "One of America's most erratic, energetic and controversial filmmakers, Francis Ford Coppola has enjoyed stunning triumphs and endured monumental setbacks, then resurrected himself, rising Phoenix-like to begin the process over again" (Matthew).

Brilliant highs and cataclysmic lows … this begs the question of bipolar disorder. Certainly every directory this author found of celebrities with bipolar disorder or mental illness listed Francis Ford Coppola. In a documentary of the making of Apocolypse Now, a movie that was beset with extreme difficulties and setbacks, Coppola’s wife wrote, "I guess he has had a sort of nervous breakdown." Coppola himself noted, "little by little we went crazy," again, a reference to the difficulties of filming Apocolypse Now (Hollywood.com). However, other than remarks about this specific incident, there seems to be no written record of Francis Ford Coppola having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Regardless if Mr. Coppola has this disorder or not, in a rather detailed interview with Roger Ebert, Coppola is asked, "Does suffering enrich the artistic process?" His response is encouraging to all who strive to express their creativity, "Of course suffering or meeting difficulties that you don't know how to surmount causes you to try in ways you didn't think you could try, and by that, you know, stress and conflict does produce results that wouldn't have come if it were all easy" (Ebert, 2002).

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