Eleanor Coppola

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Eleanor Coppola
Eleanor Coppola at a film festival red carpet
Coppola at the 26th Tokyo International Film Festival in 2013
Eleanor Jessie Neil

(1936-05-04)May 4, 1936
DiedApril 12, 2024(2024-04-12) (aged 87)
Alma materUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Occupation(s)Film director, writer, artist
Years active1963–2024
(m. 1963)
RelativesBill Neil (brother)
Gia Coppola (granddaughter)

Eleanor Jessie Coppola (née Neil; May 4, 1936 – April 12, 2024) was an American documentary film director, screenwriter, and artist. She was married to director Francis Ford Coppola from 1963 until her death. She was best-known for her 1991 documentary film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse as well as other documentaries chronicling the films of her husband and children.[1]

Early life[edit]

Eleanor Coppola was born Eleanor Jessie Neil on May 4, 1936, in Los Angeles, California. Her father was a political cartoonist for the Los Angeles Examiner who died when she was 10 years old. She and her two brothers were raised by their mother, Delphine Neil (née Lougheed) in Sunset Beach, California. Her brother Bill became a noted visual effects artist.[2] She graduated from UCLA with a degree in applied design and was a member of the women's fraternity Alpha Chi Omega (Alpha Psi chapter).[3]

While working on the set of the 1963 horror film Dementia 13, she met her future husband Francis Ford Coppola. Her position was assistant art director, and he was making his directorial debut with the film. They had been dating for several months when Eleanor discovered in 1963 that she was pregnant.[4] Initially, Eleanor considered giving the baby up for adoption, but he convinced her otherwise. The couple married in Las Vegas on February 2, 1963,[citation needed] and gave birth to their first son Gian-Carlo Coppola. Years later, Eleanor gave birth to Roman and Sofia Coppola.[4]

Film career[edit]

Eleanor was a constant presence on films directed by her famous family members. Her contributions to cinema consists of mainly documentaries in which she acted as director, cinematographer, videographer, and writer.[citation needed]

Many of her documentaries consist of behind-the-scenes looks at such films as The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette, which were directed by her daughter Sofia Coppola.[5] In her documentaries, she captured the struggles that endangered her family's films even before they made it onto the big screen.[citation needed] Through her film work, Eleanor Coppola was able to illustrate not only what goes into a film financially, but also capture the emotional toll filmmaking has on the individuals on and off the camera.[citation needed]

Apocalypse Now[edit]

For her early film career, she spent much of her time accompanying her husband on his film shoots. In 1976, she began documenting the making of Apocalypse Now.[citation needed] Her recordings of the hectic film process were later released in her memoir Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now (1979). The book chronicles such events as the near destruction of the film's production as well as the stress that both cast and crew were suffering from at the time. This would not be the only documentation of the making of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now as she decided to film a documentary based on the same movie.[citation needed]

The documentary film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse was co-directed by Eleanor Coppola, Fax Bahr, and George Hickenlooper. In the film, Eleanor narrated the trials and difficulties surrounding the production of the award-winning film as not only problems arose with the studio but also the cast and crew working at the time. Such events caught on camera include the nervous breakdown of the film's lead Martin Sheen as well as the trouble facing Francis Ford Coppola when an expensive set was destroyed.[6]

The documentary film was released in 1991, which went on to win several awards such as the Emmy for "Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming – Directing". The film was also nominated for a Directors Guild of America (DGA) Documentary Award in 1991.[7]

Feature filmmaking[edit]

Coppola made her feature film directorial debut with the 2016 romantic comedy Paris Can Wait starring Diane Lane as a wealthy film producer's wife and Arnaud Viard as a charming Frenchman who drives her from Cannes to Paris. The film premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.[8]

In 2020, Coppola released her second feature film, Love Is Love Is Love, a set of intertwined love stories about three couples.[citation needed]


Coppola penned two successful books. Her first book, Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now, recorded the film's journey from 1976 to 1979. Her detailed note-taking continued in other areas of her life as she collected and wrote about her life's major events. With notes covering a 30 year time span, she went on to write the book Notes on a Life.[9]

Notes on a Life[edit]

The memoir Notes on a Life follows thirty years of Eleanor Coppola's life as she juggles raising children and being there for Francis as he directs films that move the family from place to place. The book consists of short passages from each day beginning with the death of her oldest son Gian-Carlo Coppola at the age of 22 and the birth of her granddaughter Gia just months later. The death of Gian-Carlo Coppola serves as a constant refrain throughout the entire book.[10]

The book is told through her own point of view and although she mentions certain events concerning those around her, such as the controversy surrounding Francis' decision to cast Sofia in The Godfather Part III, her memoir chronicles the inner struggles and problems the family faced at the time.[11]


Coppola died in Rutherford, California, on April 12, 2024, at the age of 87.[12]


Year Film Role(s)
1962 Dementia 13 Assistant art director
1991 Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse Director
1996 A Visit to China's Miao Country Director
1998 Making of 'The Virgin Suicides' Director
2002 On the Set of 'CQ' Videographer
2002 Teknolust Second camera operator
2006 A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now Cinematographer
2006 Heard Any Good Movies Lately?: The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now Cinematographer
2006 The Birth of 5.1 Sound Cinematographer
2006 The Music of Apocalypse Now Cinematographer
2007 The Making of 'Marie Antoinette' Director
2007 Francis Ford Coppola Directs 'John Grisham's The Rainmaker' Director
2007 Coda: Thirty Years Later Director, cinematographer, writer
2016 Paris Can Wait Director, writer
2020 Love Is Love Is Love Director, writer

Other work[edit]

The organization Circle of Memory was founded by Eleanor Coppola and other artists to commemorate missing and lost loved ones. Her artwork has been featured in museums and galleries around the world. Eleanor Coppola founded the project in memory of her late son Gian-Carlo Coppola. Eleanor Coppola also designed costumes for the Oberlin Dance Company. She also managed the Rubicon Estate Winery which her family owns.[13]


  • Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now by Eleanor Coppola
  • Notes on a Life by Eleanor Coppola

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Landis, Deborah N. "Eleanor Coppola". Eleanor Coppola In conversation with Deborah N. Landis, costume designer & author Notes on a Life. Library Foundation. Archived from the original on November 2, 2011. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  2. ^ Barnes, Mike (April 12, 2024). "Eleanor Coppola, Emmy-Winning Director of 'Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse,' Dies at 87". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on April 14, 2024. Retrieved April 14, 2024.
  3. ^ Peri, Camille (June 26, 2008). "Don't call her Mrs. Corleone". Eleanor Coppola -- Francis Ford's wife and Sofia's mom -- talks about life in a famous Italian-American family and finding her artistic voice. Salon core. Archived from the original on June 26, 2013. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Eleanor Coppola, matriarch who documented her film family's work, dies at 87". Washington Post. Retrieved April 13, 2024.
  5. ^ Mackay, Mari (July 23, 2009). "Coppola's wife: 'Apocalypse Now' was 'out of control'". CNN. Archived from the original on March 24, 2018. Retrieved May 7, 2012.
  6. ^ Berti, Francesca (April 12, 2012). "Eleanor Coppola and the Diary from Apocalypse". Archived from the original on October 18, 2014. Retrieved May 7, 2012.
  7. ^ "Directors Guild of America Awards". Archived from the original on February 21, 2012. Retrieved April 12, 2024.
  8. ^ "Paris Can Wait". Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on September 12, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  9. ^ Eyman, Scott (May 11, 2008). "Eleanor Coppola again proves her artistic mettle". Eleanor Coppola again proves her artistic mettle The diary of the wife of famed director is a work of fine art. Chron.com. Archived from the original on July 9, 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2012.
  10. ^ Coppola, Eleanor (2008). Notes on a Life. United States: Nan A. Talese. pp. 294. ISBN 978-0-385-52499-5.
  11. ^ Wappler, Margarte (May 12, 2008). "The memoirist of the Coppola clan". Eleanor Coppola reflects on life, art and her famous family in her new book. Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 15, 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2012.
  12. ^ Coyle, Jake; Bahr, Lindsey (April 12, 2024). "Eleanor Coppola, matriarch of a filmmaking family, dies at 87". Associated Press. Archived from the original on April 13, 2024. Retrieved April 12, 2024.
  13. ^ Wu, Dorothy. "Documentarian, Writer and Artist Eleanor Coppola: On Fishing for Inspiration in Everyday Life". Notes on The Road. Archived from the original on May 26, 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2012.

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