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Frank Capra Jr. dies at 73

READ MORE: Frank Capra Jr. dies at 73

Television and movie studio president Frank Capra Junior has died.

The executive vice president of Wilmington-based EUE/Screen Gem Studios, Bill Vassar, says Capra died Wednesday night in a Philadelphia hospital at age 73.

Vassar says Capra died following a long fight with prostate cancer.

The son of "It's A Wonderful Life" director Frank Capra helped build the Wilmington studio, the largest television and movie studio on the East Coast.

EUE/Screen Gems' credits include several major motion pictures, including "28 Days," "Domestic Disturbance," "Black Knight" and "A Walk to Remember."

He also was at the helm when "Dawson's Creek" filmed at the studio, starring a then-unknown Katie Holmes.

Chief Operating Officer Chris Cooney says Capra was a perfect ambassador to Hollywood.

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Frank Capra Jr., who came to North Carolina in the early '80s looking for a house to burn and eventually became synonymous with Wilmington's filmmaking success, died Wednesday. He was 73.

Capra Jr., President of EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, first came to the area in search of locations for the film "Firestarter," the Stephen King horror movie starring a young Drew Barrymore.

As the film’s producer he selected Wilmington and Orton Plantation in Winnabow as the place to shoot "Firestarter" for Executive Producer Dino De Laurentiis. Capra found the perfect house and built a replica that was burned for the film. The next year De Laurentiis decided to build a film studio in Wilmington.

Capra, Jr., was involved with a wide range of projects over his five decades in the film business. He was a part of the producing team for "Play It Again Sam," a Woody Allen picture. He produced three "Planet of the Ape" sequels and was the associate director for "Pocketful of Miracles" working alongside his father, legendary director Frank Capra. He was a producer of early television series including "Gunsmoke," "The Rifleman," "Hazel" and "Dennis the Menace." In addition, he served as President of Avco-Embassy Pictures in the 1970’s.

Frank Capra Jr. became a fixture in Wilmington when the Cooney family purchased the facility in 1997. They brought Frank back to the city he loved and named him President of EUE Screen Gems Studios.

"With his Hollywood pedigree and extensive experience as a producer, Frank was the perfect ambassador to Hollywood," said Chris Cooney, Chief Operating Officer of EUE Screen Gems LTD. "He will be missed as a friend and a colleague."

"He had a smile that lit up a room every time you saw him," said Bill Vassar, long time Executive Vice President of EUE Screen Gems Studios. "He was well known for his generous spirit. His dedicated service to the community benefited the greater Wilmington area as well as the film industry."

With the ownership of the facility by the Cooney family, along with the leadership of Capra, Jr., EUE Screen Gems Studios and Wilmington have become the largest film production center east of California.

Frank Capra, Jr. was one of three children born to the director Frank Capra and Lucille Rayburn Warner Capra of Los Angeles, CA. He studied at The California Institute of Technology and graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, CA, with a degree in geology. He enlisted in the Army's Signal Corps and taught soldiers combat motion picture photography.

Capra, Jr. was the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Film Studies at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. In 1995 he was the Grand Marshall of the North Carolina Azalea Festival held each year in Wilmington. He was a member of the North Carolina Governor’s Film Council, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science and the Director’s Guild of America of which his father was a founding member. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington honored him this past January as the 2007 Citizen of the Year.

He leaves his wife Debra Capra and a daughter Christina both of Santa Barbara, CA, two sons, Frank Capra III of Los Angeles, CA and Jonathan Capra of Wilmington as well as one granddaughter.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Frank Capra, Jr. Films Studies Scholarship Fund, c/o Marla Rice Evans at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 South College Street, Wilmington, NC 28403

Courtesy: Bill Vassar, EUE Screen Gems Studios

For more information about Friday night's annual screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" at UNCW, and its special tribute to Capra, visit

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