R.I.P. Frank Pierson, Oscar-winning Dog Day Afternoon screenwriter
Frank Pierson, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter who worked in TV and movies for more than 50 years, has died at the age of 87. Pierson was the son of Louise Randall Pierson, whose memoir, Roughly Speaking, about her experience holding the family together was made into a 1945 movie starring Rosalind Russell. After attending Harvard, Frank got his start in advertising before breaking into TV as script editor on the hit Western Have Gun, Will Travel. He got his first big-screen credits on two movies directed by Elliot Silverstein: the comedic Western Cat Ballou (1965) and The Happening (1967). And as one of the writers on Cool Hand Luke (1967), Pierson came up with the movie’s best-remembered line:
In 1969, Pierson made his feature directing debut with The Looking Glass War, an unsuccessful adaptation of a John le Carré thriller. In 1971, he returned to TV, directing the acclaimed TV movie The Neon Ceiling and creating the short-lived James Garner series Nichols. He also wrote the Sidney Lumet melodrama The Anderson Tapes, and in 1975, had a genuine cinematic triumph with the script for Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, for which he won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The next year, he directed the Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson A Star Is Born—a huge box-office hit, but also a troubled production that was roasted by critics and in gossip columns, and one that Pierson publicly dissociated himself from in an article published before the movie's release.
Pierson only directed one more theatrical feature, 1978's King Of The Gypsies, but he continued to direct several films for TV, the most notable being the HBO productions Citizen Cohn (1992), starring James Woods as Roy Cohn; Truman (1995), starring Gary Sinise and based on David McCullough’s bestselling biography of the 33rd President; and Conspiracy (2001), a gripping dramatization of the Wannsee Conference, at which Nazi officers hashed out the details of the planned extermination of the Jews. More recently, he worked as a consulting producer on The Good Wife and Mad Men, where he presumably put his memories of his own ad man’s life to good use. Pierson also served as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 2001 to 2005.