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August Coppola, professor, director’s sibling

By Claire Noland
Los Angeles Times / November 3, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - August Coppola, a former literature professor and the father of actor Nicolas Cage and the brother of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and actress Talia Shire, died Oct. 27 in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack. He was 75.

Often described as flamboyant and eccentric, Dr. Coppola taught comparative literature at California State University, Long Beach, in the 1960s and ’70s and served as a trustee of the California State University system before moving to California State University, San Francisco, in 1984. He became dean of the School of Creative Arts there and professor in the department of design and industry until 1992.

In 1991, instead of leading a groundbreaking for a planned addition to San Francisco State’s creative arts complex, Dr. Coppola hosted a “skybreaking’’ because, he said, “The idea is to look up, rather than down - look up to the sky, the clouds, teach young people to dream.’’

“He was one of the most remarkable characters anybody’s going to meet,’’ Cage, who changed his name soon after beginning his acting career, said in an interview with Playboy magazine in 1996. “When I was a kid, the other kids were seeing Disney and he was showing us movies like Fellini’s ‘Juliet of the Spirits.’ This was before video, so he would take us to the art-house cinemas. I saw ‘Citizen Kane,’ and that’s when I discovered Max Schreck and Nosferatu and Dr. Caligari, which gave me nightmares.’’

August Coppola was born in Hartford, the oldest child of Carmine Coppola, a composer and classically trained flutist, and his wife Italia, a lyricist. The family moved often, depending on where Carmine Coppola’s work took them, but the children were close and enjoyed going to movies together and reading books.

“He was a great older brother to me and always looked out for me,’’ Francis Coppola, the award-winning director of “The Godfather’’ trilogy and “Apocalypse Now,’’ said in an interview with the cinema journal Film Comment, “but in addition, he did very well in school and received many awards for writing and other things, and he was like the star of the family, and I did most of what I did to imitate him.’’

August Coppola earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of California at Los Angeles, a master’s in English from Hofstra University, and a doctorate in comparative literature and interdisciplinary studies from Occidental College, then began teaching at Cal State Long Beach.

He and his wife, dancer Joy Vogelsang, had three sons, Christopher, Marc, and Nicolas, before divorcing. Christopher became a film director and Marc a disc jockey. In addition to his brother, sister, and sons, Dr. Coppola leaves six grandchildren.