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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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Frank Capra and Screen Gems

In regards to the comment left below, I advise you know a little more about the Film Industry in wilmington before you make such comments as "Nashville makes more than wilmington." EUE Screen Gems Studios is the largest studio outside of LA. If you dont beleive, take a tour and see for yourself. They have made over 350 productions including classics such as A Walk to Remember, The Ninja Turtles, and Domestic Disturbance. Wilmington has 9 humungous Soundstages and fully operable offices where the biggest of big producers have called home. Don't be naive, see for yourself before you make such understatements please. Frank Capra was a great man. It was a great pleasure knowing him. No matter how bad he felt, he always walked around with a smile. Wilmington was the city he loved, and in Wilmington his heart will stay.


The legend of Frank Capra Jr. is like most of Hollywood ... to be taken with a wink and a smile, which Frank was tops at. Frank and business giant Dino hit up the State for millions in incentive money a decade or so before it became fashionable and the millions and millions in corporate welfare continued to roll in provding service and entry level jobs for a couple of hundred locals. It was brilliant. What is equally as brilliant is the hype that Wilmington has the biggest ... um.. what was the copy.. oh yeah, "EUE Screen Gems Studios and Wilmington have become the largest film production center east of California. " Well come on... anyone think Wilmington does more film work than New York? Or even Charlotte???? For Christ sake even Nashville beats out Wilmington. But these is the things legends are made of, glitter and glamour, excitement and star-studded folklore. Frank was truely a legend. I had the opportunity to know him when he first came to town and he was a delightful man. But he was also a good producer, he knew how to get people to see things the way he wanted them to, a magician of sorts... or as his big city boss said, "With his Hollywood pedigree and extensive experience as a producer, Frank was the perfect ambassador to Hollywood," "With his Hollywood pedigree and extensive experience as a producer, Frank was the perfect ambassador to Hollywood," Amen to that! RIP Frank!

Film Business alive and well

Thanks to the generous out of pocket risks and capital investments by not only producers like Frank Capra but also everyone from George Lucas to Russ Myer, Wilmington has seen 293 BILLION dollars in revenue since the early 80's. The money has gone to build Wilmington's infastructure into a world class example of civic responsibility. Big box stores have opened primarily just to cater to the film industry and several boutiques reminiscent of Rodeo Drive have popped up employing hundreds of models and actresses as counter clerks and private shoppers who otherwise would be working at the "gentlemen's clubs" or escort businesses. If it wasn't for the film business not only Wilmington, but the entire state would have to raise taxes and live with congested roads and leaky sewers. The money being brought in has made our school system a testiment to the nature vs. nurture controversay proving if given enough resourses our youth will thrive and prosper. Half of Wilmington, at one point or another, has been employed in some fashion by the film business, the other half services it. Hosanna, praise be to the second, third, fifteenth largest film center in the galaxy and leaders in such child porn classics as the yet to be released Dakota Fanning's Hounddog and the two other child rape movies, Lolita and Bastard out of Carolina. If it wasn't for movies such as those or such classics as Black Dog, Black Knight, White Men Can't Dance and let's not forget Dirt Nap Wilmington would just be another place big, fat, union thugs and thieves would bring their carnival workers to scam the area of their natural resources and receive tax money for doing so. The film business is alive and well. God bless it! Would you like fries with that?

....but the competition is fierce!

It used to be that every waitress and bartender in Wilmington was an aspiring actor or actress. Now, thanks to UNCW, only half of them are. The other half are unemployed marine biologists. Whatever you do, don't ask the difference between the black sea bass and the grouper. You won't make it home by Midnight.

Until the mid to late 90's

Until the mid to late 90's Wilmington WAS the 3rd largest film market in the Eastern Hemisphere. Over 4000 movies, tv movie of the week, miniseries and television episodes were shot in and around the Wilmington area (Charlotte along with dozens of other cities were used for location shots, but the production offices remainded in Wilmington). It wasn't until Canada started offering major incentive packages that most filming left the area, and with the cost of film making decreasing rapidly, it becomes much easier for a low budget film that would have in the past needed the resources and the man power that Wilmington offered to take their project anywhere they desire. So yes, Wilmington WAS the 3rd largest market at one time and for a long time, thanks to Frank Capra jr. RIP Frank. get your facts straight next time, there's a reason your nobody important

This was an amazing man

I head him speak at Brunswick Community College and at UNCW and he is a very inspiring person. My condolences go out to his family and close friends. Thanks for all the excellent work in the film industry and definately one of the best to ever. R.I.P.

Frank Capri, Jr

Frank Capri, Jr. was a gracious and inspiring leader in the film industry. He was always looking to the future with that famous smile. Wilmington owes him a debt of gratitude for all he brought to our city.