Remembering Frank Capra

Frank Capra and Steve Vertlieb at the Walnut.

By Steve Vertlieb: During a particularly sad and lonely Christmas for my friend and hero, I wrote the brilliant motion picture director Frank Capra a few ineffectual words of hope and encouragement. It was a time of deep reflection and melancholy for the famed director, and I felt that I needed to reach out to him in compassion and support.

This was the man who brought such incalculable joy and hope to so many millions of filmgoers with his quintessential Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. His nearly heartbreaking response remains, after all these years, one of my most treasured, and cherished pieces of personal correspondence.

He was a legendary film director, and became a personal friend in his later years. Clad in his distinguished white jacket, this was our first lovely meeting together in the Spring of 1972 at The Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. Frank directed Lost Horizon, It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, You Can’t Take It With You, and A Hole In The Head, among many other classic films.

Later that year I spent a quiet afternoon with one of cinema’s greatest, most distinguished motion picture directors. It was truly a memorable afternoon in which Frank and I sat together at the home of a mutual friend…just the two of us…watching a 16 mm print of his Oscar winning classic. It Happened One Night. At its conclusion, the two of us posed proudly beside a poster of his Oscar winning film.

Steve Vertlieb and Frank Capra at David’s.

This cherished afternoon with the acclaimed director of so many classic motion pictures, was absolutely sublime, and a wondrous remnant from a lifetime of cinematic memories and unforgettable experiences.

Here’s a lost treasure from fifty years ago. I was having dinner at my friend Pat Valentine’s home in Flourtown, Pa in July, 2022. He was looking through some old 4×6 photographs and showing them to my lady, Shelly, when he stumbled upon this amazing shot of beloved motion picture director Frank Capra and I. I’d never even seen this photograph until last night. It was taken in 1972 at the home of local television movie host and pal David Mallery.

Frank was visiting David, and I’d received an invitation to join them for an afternoon. Between us are Pat’s little brother, Todd, with his wife Wendy and their daughter, Ashley Valentine. I nearly fell off of my chair when I saw this picture, and longingly asked Pat if I could borrow it.

I ran over to my local camera shop this afternoon, and had them scan it for me. Frank Capra remains one of my lifelong heroes, as well as a cherished friend in his latter years. Life can bring both surprises and blessings out of nowhere when one least expects them to surface … and I shall remain ever grateful to Pat for discovering this lost treasure from half a century ago.

Yours will always be “The Name Above The Title” in my book, Frank.

Steve Verlieb, Todd, and Frank Capra.

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