A Lesson from Frank Capra on Facing Tough Times

Despite his growing fame throughout  the 1930s, the screwball comedy genius Frank Capra also wanted to establish himself as a serious filmmaker.  He finally found a script with a populist  theme that reflected his views on America and the fate of the common man during the depression; but  to produce it, Capra had to first mortgage his house.  The film was “Meet John Doe” with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck in the starring roles, which premiered in 1941 and was an immediate hit. It also earned him an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay and has remained a highly regarded film.

As I watched it recently on PBS, I thought of the lingering hardships in this economic cycle and wondered how many brilliant works of art, new inventions or breakthrough ideas are out there waiting for the dreamer to take a huge economic risk in this stagnant economy.

I remain hopeful that the solution to our present malaise is a new wave of innovation, ready for launch, including creating new green products and industries to fight global warming – and new ideas for solving the lingering environmental impact of disasters like the BP Oil spill. I only hope those young innovators have the courage of Frank Capra.

There’s another message in this film.  It was about a young woman reporter about to be fired by her editor as they streamline staff during hard times – she dreamed up a story about an angry common man threatening to jump off a building on Christmas eve and presented it to her editor as her parting shot.  He loved it, even when she admitted that she had invented John Doe, but argued he would be easy to find – she was right.  The movie’s ultimate theme was that people needed to reach out to their neighbors during the depression and help each other – and the result was a political movement of “John Doe” clubs, making sure no one was battling joblessness or foreclosure alone.

It’s a message that is timeless and I wanted to share it again.  Thank you,  Frank Capra, for sharing your serious side.

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