Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker's Lifeby Michael Schumacher
Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life is the first complete picture of the internationally renowned and controversial cinematic genius who directed such films as the Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, and dozens more -- some wildly successful, some utterly disastrous. He is Hollywood’s perennial outsider, admired and respected for his courage and individualism, but still criticized for being a gambler in a business where success is measured by box-office receipts.
Michael Schumacher tells the entire history of this masterful filmmaker. Coppola reveals for the first time:
* The whole story of his early years, including his “skin flick,” his slasher movie, and his years with Roger Corman.
* The reason behind the most controversial casting decision of his career: putting his daughter, Sofia, in The
Godfather, Part III.
* The impact of the loss of his son, Gio, on his work and his life.
With unprecedented access to Coppola’s friends, critics, peers, casts, and crews, Schumacher creates an irresistible read, showing all the aspects of one of the most complex, conflicted filmmakers of our time.
- Random House, Incorporated
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 9.17(w) x 9.16(h) x 9.16(d)
Read an Excerpt
Francis Ford Coppola, the second of Carmine and Italia Coppola's three children, was born in the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, on April 7, 1939. Francis's older brother, August, an enormous influence in Francis's life, had been born five years earlier, on February 16, 1934, and his sister, Talia, who, as Talia Shire, would become a successful actress, would arrive in 1946. Francis received his name from his maternal grandfather, Francesco Pennino, and from the sponsor of the "Ford Sunday Evening Hour," a radio program that employed Carmine Coppola as an assistant conductor and musical arranger. After her son had become an internationally known film director, Italia Coppola would remark that she had slight regrets about Americanizing Francis's name because he seemed the most deeply connected to his Italian heritage.
Both of Coppola's parents were first-generation Italian-Americans, the children of immigrants who left Italy for the United States around
the turn of the century. Great ambition and artistic talent ran on both sides of the family. Francesco Pennino, a musician and songwriter, worked for a time as Enrico Caruso's pianist; his grandson would eventually honor him by using a fragment of one of his musical plays, a melodrama called Senza Mama, in a scene in The Godfather, Part II. But Pennino's biggest contribution to Francis Ford Coppola's life and career could be traced to his enthusiasm for movies: He operated several movie theaters in the New York area, and he was responsible for bringing a number of silent Italian films to the United States. He had connections to Paramount Pictures, which led to his being offered a job writing scores for thecompany's silent films, but Pennino, for all of his love of the movies, wanted nothing to do with Hollywood.
Augustino Coppola, Francis's paternal grandfather, while not a musician himself, encouraged his large family to study music, and two of his sons, Anton and Carmine, went on to have careers in music. Augustino worked as a tool-and-die maker, and he could boast of building the first Vitaphone sound system for Warner Bros. He, too, was immortalized in a scene in Godfather II: A group of Mafia hoods enter and demand that a gunsmith oil their machine guns, which he does while his young son plays the flute nearby. In real life, Augustino Coppola was similarly approached by neighborhood toughs; he oiled their guns while little Carmine stood nearby. "Who's this?" the gunmen wanted to know. "It's all right," Augustino Coppola assured them. "That's my son. Don't worry. He is studying the flute." When Augustino had finished working on the guns, the men gave him money for Carmine's musical education.
Evidently, the Coppola side of the family had a number of colorful characters in its ranks. As an adult, Francis would remember hearing all kinds of stories about his Italian ancestors--tales of robberies and "honor" slayings and the kind of mayhem that might have fit perfectly into one of his Godfather movies.
Mostly, however, there were stories of poverty, of the classic struggles that Italian immigrants went through to gain a foothold in the new country.
Carmine Coppola's youth had been anything but easy. He was left-handed and, like many left-handed kids at that time, he had to endure the rappings on the hand administered by well-intentioned teachers and adults trying to "convert" the youngsters to right-handedness. In addition, Carmine stuttered--a condition that led him to humiliating experiences in the classroom. Learning to play the flute became an urgent means of self-expression.
It also led to the most moving moment of his young life.
"My father was very attached to his older brother, Archimedes," Talia Shire remembered. "They were about a year or so apart, and my father loved his brother beyond belief. When Archimedes started kindergarten, my father became so uncontrollable that they couldn't be separated, so the teacher was kind enough to let Carmine Coppola sit in his diapers in the back of the class and go through the kindergarten with his older brother.
"When, at the age of seventeen, Archimedes was in the hospital and dying, my father desperately played the flute to make a couple of bucks for blood transfusions. My father visited his brother in the hospital, and Archimedes said, 'Carmine, you have a gift. Would you play for me?' So my father brought his flute and played for him. It was devastating for him."
Carmine studied flute on a Julliard scholarship, and he was accomplished enough to be offered jobs with prestigious orchestras, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Not long after Francis's birth, Carmine was hired by the NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York City, where he played as first flautist for Arturo Toscanini--a position that would have thrilled any musician in the country. Carmine, however, had great aspirations. He wanted to write every kind of music conceivable--songs and serious music, perhaps even a Broadway musical or two--and his ten years with the NBC Symphony Orchestra were tinged with his own dissatisfaction over his inability to strike out on his own. He studiously worked to establish the kind of connections that he hoped would prove helpful, but nothing was forthcoming. Every night when the Coppola children said their prayers, they added a final adjoinder, imploring God to "give Daddy his break."
Life in the Coppola household revolved around Carmine's tempestuous career. The family moved often, even in the New York area--so much so that Francis soon lost track of the number of schools he had attended. He was always the new kid in school, always struggling to catch up with the curriculum in his new school, always the outsider--at least until he told his schoolmates that his father was a soloist for Toscanini; then he became a kind of schoolyard celebrity, a status he clearly relished.
According to August Coppola, Carmine Coppola's career in music had a subtle but very important influence on his children's development.
Meet the Author
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER is the author of five books, including biographies of Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, and Eric Clapton. He lives in Wisconsin.
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