Frank R. Pierson


Screenwriter

About

Also Known As
Frank R Pierson, Frank Romer Pierson
Birth Place
Chappaqua, New York, USA
Born
May 12, 1925
Died
July 23, 2012
Cause of Death
Undetermined

Biography

An enormously gifted filmmaker, Frank Pierson wore many hats throughout his illustrious career, writing, directing and producing some of Hollywood's most iconic films and TV shows. After getting his start on the small screen with "Have Gun Will Travel" (CBS, 1957-63) and "Naked City" (ABC, 1958-63), Pierson segued to motion pictures with the acclaimed comic Western "Cat Ballou" (1965) an...

Family & Companions

Helene Szamet
Wife
Married on June 24, 1990.

Notes

Pierson has taught at the University of Arizona, the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto and the AFI and was an adjunct professor of screenwriting at USC.

Biography

An enormously gifted filmmaker, Frank Pierson wore many hats throughout his illustrious career, writing, directing and producing some of Hollywood's most iconic films and TV shows. After getting his start on the small screen with "Have Gun Will Travel" (CBS, 1957-63) and "Naked City" (ABC, 1958-63), Pierson segued to motion pictures with the acclaimed comic Western "Cat Ballou" (1965) and followed with the classic prison drama "Cool Hand Luke" (1967). After creating his own series, "Nichols" (NBC, 1971-72), Pierson joined forces with director Sidney Lumet for the high-paced heist thriller "The Anderson Tapes" (1971) and the unforgettable crime thriller "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), which won him the Oscar for Best Screenplay. He went on to write and direct the Oscar-winning remake of "A Star Is Born" (1976), but made several enemies - and won a few friends - for writing a revealing magazine piece on his behind-the-scenes clashes with star Barbra Streisand. Meanwhile, after scripting the films "In Country" (1989) and "Presumed Innocent" (1990), Pierson focused his directing efforts toward the small screen with several classy, awards-magnet biopics like "Conspiracy" (HBO, 1992), "Citizen Cohn" (HBO, 1992) and "Truman" (HBO, 1995), and later wrote on high-profile series like "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009-16) and "Mad Men" (AMC, 2007-15). A former president of the Writers Guild of America, as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Pierson was a vital voice in the history of filmed entertainment who left behind a glowing and important legacy.

Born May 12, 1925 in Chappaqua, NY, Pierson was raised by his father, Harold, and his mother, Louise, a writer whose autobiography was turned into the seriocomic "Roughly Speaking" (1945), starring Rosalind Russell and Jack Carson. After serving in the U.S. army, he graduated from Harvard University before becoming a correspondent for TIME magazine. Pierson made the fateful leap to Hollywood when he became a writer on the popular Western "Have Gun Will Travel" (CBS, 1957-1963), which followed the adventures of the gunslinger-for-hire Paladin (Richard Boone). Pierson continued to cut his professional teeth on shows like "Naked City" (ABC, 1958-1963) and "Route 66" (CBS, 1960-64), before breaking into films by co-writing the comic Western "Cat Ballou" (1965), starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. A smash with moviegoers, the film earned Pierson an Oscar nomination and served as his calling card for the big screen. After directing the counterculture comedy "The Happening" (1967), which became an enduring cult hit of sorts, Pierson scored another mainstream triumph for co-writing the screenplay for the Paul Newman classic "Cool Hand Luke" (1967). Responsible for the film's most famous line, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate," Pierson earned himself another Oscar nomination.

Buoyed by his success, Pierson helped write "The 42nd Annual Academy Awards" (1970), wrote and directed the Anthony Hopkins spy thriller "The Looking Glass War" (1969), and created, produced and directed the new-era Western series "Nichols" (NBC, 1971-72), starring James Garner. Despite the show's contemporary setting, atypical avoidance of violence and the roguish Garner in the lead, the series suffered from low ratings and was canceled. After writing the heist thriller "The Anderson Tapes" (1971) starring Sean Connery, Pierson won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Sidney Lumet's wrenching "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), the tale of an unstable veteran (Al Pacino) forced to take hostages while caught robbing a Brooklyn bank to pay for his male lover's (Chris Sarandon) sex-change operation. Finely observed and to many a flawless piece of New Hollywood cinema, the film helped solidify both Pacino and Pierson as Hollywood powerhouses. Perhaps his most infamous professional experience, however, came with his next project, the glossy Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson remake of "A Star Is Born" (1976). Although the film was a hit with critics and audiences, and won a Best Original Song Oscar for Streisand and Paul Williams for the lovely "Evergreen," Pierson pulled the veil back from his countless behind-the-scenes clashes in "My Battles With Barbra and Jon," a damning piece for New West magazine that achieved instant and lasting notoriety.

After writing and directing "King of the Gypsies" (1978), Pierson slowed his output but continued to enjoy big-screen success, writing the screenplays for the film adaptations of Bobbie Ann Mason's "In Country" (1989) and Scott Turow's bestseller "Presumed Innocent" (1990). In the 1990s, Pierson found a home as a director on the small screen, winning awards for "Citizen Cohn" (HBO, 1992), as well as earning Emmy nominations for the presidential biopic "Truman" (HBO, 1995), starring Gary Sinise as Give 'em Hell Harry. Pierson went on to direct "Conspiracy" (HBO, 2001), a rather talky but highly dramatic re-enactment of the secret meeting that led to the Nazi plan for the extermination of all Jews in Europe. Later that year, Pierson was elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a position he held for the maximum four consecutive terms, echoing nicely his previous two terms as president of the Writers Guild of America, West. Pierson remained active right up until the end, scripting episodes of "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009-16) and "Mad Men" (AMC, 2007-15), as well as serving as a producer on both series, before his death on July 23, 2012 from natural causes. He was 87 years old. An intelligent, outspoken writer, director and producer, Pierson was a passionate defender of the art of cinema, as well as a driving force for the industry's need to never stop its attempts to improve, grow and inspire.

By Jonathan Riggs

Life Events

1943

Served with U.S. Army

1962

Entered show business as story editor of TV series "Have Gun Will Travel" (CBS), later served as producer and director for the show

1965

Co-wrote first produced screenplay "Cat Ballou"; received first Academy Award nomination

1967

Contributed to the script for "Cool Hand Luke"; shared Academy Award nomination

1970

Directed first feature "The Looking Glass War"; also wrote screenplay

1971

Directed the award-winning NBC TV-movie "Neon Ceiling"

1975

Won Oscar for solo screenwriting effort "Dog Day Afternoon"

1976

Collaborated on the screenplay and directed the Barbra Streisand vehicle "A Star Is Born"

1978

Penned screenply adaptation and directed "King of the Gypsies"

1980

Wrote the teleplay for the above average CBS TV biopic "Haywire," based on the memoirs of Brooke Hayward, the daughter of agent Leland Hayward and actress Margaret Sullavan

1981

Served as president of the Writers Guild of America

1989

Returned to features as collaborator on the screenplay for the Vietnam-era drama "In Country"

1990

Directed the HBO movie "Somebody Has to Shoot the Picture"

1990

Collaborated with director Alan J. Pakula on the script for "Presumed Innocent," the feature based on Scott Turow's bestselling novel

1992

Helmed the acclaimed HBO biopic "Citizen Cohn," starring James Woods; received Emmy nomination

1993

Returned as WGA president

1994

Directed the TNT original "Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee"

1995

Helmed the highly-praised HBO biographical drama "Truman," starring Gary Sinise

2000

Reteamed with James Woods in the docudrama "Dirty Pictures" (Showtime), about the famed incident wherein the director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center booked an exhibition of controversial photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and was then indicted for indecency

2001

Garnered Emmy nomination for direction of "Conspiracy" (HBO), a docudrama about the Wanasee Conference wherein the Nazis outlined The Final Solution

2001

Announced as writer and director of "The Last of the Savages"; in development as of summer 2001

2001

Elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; held position for the maximum four consecutive terms

2003

Directed the acclaimed Showtime movie "Soldier's Girl," based on a true story; film starred Troy Garity and Lee Pace

2004

Directed David Strathairn and Barbara Hershey in the TV drama "Paradise"

2009

Was consulting producer on AMC's "Mad Men"; also wrote the "Signal 30" episode in 2012

2010

Returned to TV series writing with an episode of "The Good Wife" (CBS)

Videos

Movie Clip

Anderson Tapes, The (1971) - Did I Scare You? Still unaware of the manifold surveillance operations arrayed against him, Duke (Sean Connery, title character) visits his ex-con pal “The Kid” (Christopher Walken, in his first studio feature film) in a Manhattan electronics shop, enlisting help in a high-end burglary, in director Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes, 1971.
Anderson Tapes, The (1971) - You've Had The Operation? Newly paroled thief "Duke" Anderson (Sean Connery) visits Tommy (Martin Balsam), an antique dealer sporting Nehru jacket and ascot, to discuss business in Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes, 1971, from Lawrence Sanders' novel.
Anderson Tapes, The (1971) - Open, I Feel Deeply Moved Profane opening from Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes, 1971, based on the trend-setting first novel by Lawrence Sanders, finds thief "Duke" Anderson (Sean Connery) in group therapy, about to be released from prison, Anthony Holland as the obsequious shrink.
Anderson Tapes, The (1971) - Diving For Sponges Just released from prison, thief "Duke" Anderson (Sean Connery) has a proposal for semi-reformed mobster Angelo (Alan King), neither knowing they're under surveillance, in this case by feds, Ralph Stanley (a.k.a. Raoul Kraushaar) the consigliere, in Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes, 1971.
Anderson Tapes, The (1971) - Credits, No Hot Water Quincy Jones music and Sean Connery (as "Duke" Anderson) being released from prison, in the only credit sequence ever to feature the words "and introducing Christopher Walken," from Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes, 1971, from the Lawrence Sanders novel.
Anderson Tapes, The (1971) - I Want To Eat It! Christopher Walken (as "The Kid") in almost his first movie role, ushering fellow ex-cons Duke (Sean Connery) and "Pop" (Stan Gottleib) back into society via the Port Authority Bus Terminal in The Anderson Tapes, 1971, from Lawrence Sanders' novel.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - That's Not A Country Ex-con Sonny (Al Pacino) calculating options with hostages (Penny Allen, Sully Boyar) in the Brooklyn bank, consults with his dim-witted fellow ex-con partner Sal (John Cazale), Charles Durning as the city cop Moretti, Sidney Lumet directing from Frank Pierson’s fact-based screenplay, in Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - Attica! Bank robber Sonny (Al Pacino), now holding hostages, rallies the Brooklyn crowd, citing the infamous 1971 prison riot, after an obscene in-person confrontation with cop Moretti (Charles Durning), a famous scene from Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - He Can't Make It Following credits establishing Brooklyn, NY, August 22, 1972, Sonny (Al Pacino), Sal (John Cazale) and hesitant Stevie (Gary Springer) begin their bank job, in Sidney Lumet's fact-based Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - They're Bringing In Your Wife Something of a spoiler, as writer Frank Pierson delivers one of the noted plot curve-balls of the decade in his fact-based screenplay, as cop Moretti (Charles Durning) tells hostage-holding bank robber Sonny (Al Pacino) that his wife has arrived, not expecting Chris Sarandon as Leon, in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Cat Ballou (1965) - All Dead And Gone Newly-hired legendary gunfighter Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) delivers his resumè for Frankie (John Marley) and daughter Catherine (Jane Fonda) Ballou and co., who are discouraged that he turned out to be a drunk, but impressed with his commentary and shooting, in Cat Ballou, 1965.
Star Is Born, A (1976) - Manners Of A Hog Having refused to let him spend the night after getting him out of a brawl, small-time singer Esther (Barbra Streisand) welcomes rocker John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson), whom she did invite for breakfast, and who crashed outside in his limo (Paul Mazursky his driver), in A Star Is Born, 1976.

Trailer

Family

Harold C Pierson
Father
Louise Pierson
Mother
Michael Pierson
Son
Eve Pierson
Daughter

Companions

Helene Szamet
Wife
Married on June 24, 1990.

Bibliography

Notes

Pierson has taught at the University of Arizona, the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto and the AFI and was an adjunct professor of screenwriting at USC.