Francis Ford Coppola was born in 1939 in Detroit, Michigan, but grew up in a New York suburb in a creative, supportive Italian-American family. His father, Carmine Coppola, was a composer and musician. His mother, Italia Coppola (née Pennino), had been an actress.
Francis Ford Coppola graduated with a degree in drama from Hofstra University, and did graduate work at UCLA in filmmaking. He was training as assistant with filmmaker Roger Corman, working in such capacities as sound-man, dialogue director, associate producer and, eventually, director of Dementia 13 (1963), Coppola’s first feature film. During the next four years, Coppola was involved in a variety of script collaborations, including writing an adaptation of “This Property is Condemned” by Tennessee Williams (with Fred Coe and Edith Sommer), and screenplays for Is Paris Burning? (1966) and Patton (1970), the film for which Coppola won a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award.
In 1966, Coppola’s 2nd film brought him critical acclaim and a Master of Fine Arts degree. In 1969, Coppola and George Lucas established American Zoetrope, an independent film production company based in San Francisco. The company’s first project was THX 1138 (1971), produced by Coppola and directed by Lucas. Coppola also produced the second film that Lucas directed, American Graffiti (1973),
After directing The Rain People (1969), he co-wrote the 1970 film Patton, earning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay along with co-writer Edmund H. North. His directorial prominence was cemented with the release in 1972 of The Godfather, a film which revolutionized movie-making in the gangster genre, earning praise from both critics and the public before winning three Academy Awards—including his second Oscar (Best Adapted Screenplay, with Mario Puzo), Best Picture, and his first nomination for Best Director.
Following his work on the screenplay for The Great Gatsby (1974), Coppola’s next film was The Conversation (1974), which was honored with the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and brought Coppola Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay Oscar nominations. Also released that year, The Godfather: Part II (1974), rivaled the success of The Godfather (1972), and won six Academy Awards, bringing Coppola Oscars as a producer, director and writer. Also it’s the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Highly regarded by critics, it brought him three more Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture, and made him the second director, after Billy Wilder, to be honored three times for the same film.
The Conversation, which he directed, produced and wrote, was released that same year, winning the Palme d’Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. He next directed 1979’s Apocalypse Now. While notorious for its lengthy and strenuous production, the film is widely acclaimed for its vivid and stark depiction of the Vietnam War. It won the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, making Coppola one of only eight filmmakers to win two Palme d’Or awards.
Coppola then began work on his most ambitious film, Apocalypse Now (1979), a Vietnam War epic that was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1993). Released in 1979, the acclaimed film won a Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and two Academy Awards.
Also that year, Coppola executive produced the hit The Black Stallion (1979). With George Lucas, Coppola executive produced Kagemusha (1980), directed by Akira Kurosawa, and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), directed by Paul Schrader and based on the life and writings of Yukio Mishima. Coppola also executive produced such films as The Escape Artist (1982), Hammett (1982) The Black Stallion Returns (1983), Barfly (1987), Wind (1992), The Secret Garden (1993), etc.
While a number of Coppola’s ventures in the 1980s and 1990s were critically lauded, he has never quite achieved the same commercial success with films as in the 1970s.His most well-known films released since the start of the 1980s are the dramas The Outsiders and Rumble Fish (both 1983), the crime-drama The Cotton Club (1984), the crime-drama The Godfather Part III (1990), and the horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).
He helped to make a star of his nephew, Nicolas Cage. Personal tragedy hit in 1986 when his son Gio died in a boating accident. Francis Ford Coppola is one of America’s most erratic, energetic and controversial filmmakers.