Writer of Dog Day Afternoon
“A film set, as Orson Welles was first to say, is the most wonderful electric train a boy could ever be given. What he failed to add was that most of the time it doesn’t work.” Frank Pierson
Distinguished screenwriter and celebrated director Frank Pierson initially gained notice for his contribution to the screenplay for 1965’s Cat Ballou, from which he earned an Academy Award nomination, a Writers Guild of America nod and a Berlin International Film Festival Award. Two years later, he took home another Oscar nod after penning the highly praised script for Cool Hand Luke (1967), but it was Pierson’s bravura writing for Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975) that finally won him the statuette. He also picked up a Writers Guild of America Award for his work in the latter project. As a director, Pierson is probably best remembered for helming such remarkable television films as Neon Ceiling (1971), Somebody Has To Shoot the Picture (1990), Citizen Cohn (1992, received an Emmy nod and a Directors Guild of America nod), Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994, netted a Bronze Wrangler Award), Truman (1995, nabbed a Directors Guild of America nomination), Dirty Pictures (2000) and Soldier’s Girl (
2003, earned an Emmy nod). In the HBO film Conspiracy (2001), Pierson was handed a Directors Guild of America Award and two Emmy nominations, including one for Outstanding Directing. He also has directed films like The Looking Glass War (1969), A Star Is Born (1976) and King of the Gypsies (1978).
Pierson was President of the Writers Guild of America, West from 1981 to 1983 and again from 1993 to 1995. He became the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) from 2001- 2005, and currently, he is a member of the teaching staff of Sundance Institute and is Artistic Director of the American Film Institute.
Childhood and Family:
Son of Harold C. Pierson and Louise Pierson, Frank R. Pierson was born on May 12, 1925, in Chappaqua, New York. Before attending Harvard University, where he graduated in 1950, he served with US Army. Frank has a son, Michael Pierson, and a daughter, Eve Pierson.
Director of Conspiracy
A former correspondent for Time and Life magazines, Frank Pierson entered entertainment industry as story editor (and later producer-director) on the well-liked CBs television series “Have Gun Will Travel” in the early 1960s. He also wrote for “Naked City,” “Route 66,” “Studio One” and “Alcoa Goodyear Theater” during the so-called ‘Golden Age of Television.’ Pierson’s first break as a screenwriter came along in 1965 with the Elliot Silverstein-helmed Cat Ballou, a Western starring Jane Fonda in the title character. Along with his partner, screenwriter Walter Newman, he shared a Berlin International Film Festival Award for Special Mention, an Oscar nod for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and a Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Written American Comedy.
After the Academy Award-nominated work, Pierson contributed to the scripts for the comedy film The Happening (1967), and the acclaimed classic individual-against-the-unjust-prison-system drama Cool Hand Luke (1967), for director Stuart Rosenberg. His work in the latter project even won Pierson his next Academy Award nomination, this time sharing with Donn Pearce. Two years later, Pierson made his film directorial debut in The Looking Glass War, an action film he also wrote the screenplay.
The following years saw Pierson direct the award-winning made-for-TV film The Neon Ceiling (1971), co-scripted the Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes (1971) as well as co-created and directed episodes of television series “Nichols” (1971-1972), starring James Garner. In 1973, he teamed up with writer Mark Rogers for the television film Amanda Fallon.
Returning to cinema, Pierson scored massive victory by gaining an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and a Writers Guild of America for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen for his spectacular writing in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Starring Penelope Allen and Sully Boyar, the film also brought him a Golden Globe nomination and a BAFTA nomination, for Best Screenplay. Next, Pierson directed and collaborated to the screenplay for the Barbra Streisand vehicle A Star Is Born (1976), which won an Oscar for Best Original Song, and in 1978, he adapted and directed the drama feature King of the Gypsies.
Pierson was not seen in many projects during the 1980s. He penned the screenplay for the above average CBS TV biopic Haywire (1980), based on the memoirs of Brooke Hayward, the daughter of actress Margaret Sullavan and agent Leland Hayward, and was back to feature as turncoat on the screenplay for the Vietnam-era drama In Country (1989). He also directed several episodes of the 1985 television thriller series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”
After working together with director Alan J. Pakula on the script for Presumed Innocent (1990), the movie based on Scott Turow’s best-selling novel, Pierson directed several remarkable films produced for television, like the HBO Somebody Has To Shoot the Picture (1990), the acclaimed biopic Citizen Cohn (1992), from which he earned a 1993 Emmy nod for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing for a Miniseries or a Special and a 1993 Directors Guild of America nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials, and the TNT original Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994), which won a Bronze Wrangler from Western Heritage. In 1995, he directed Gary Sinise in the highly-praised HBO biographical drama Truman, where he once again received a Directors Guild of America nomination.
Continuing his success on the small screen, after directing the Showtime docudrama Dirty Pictures (2000), starring James Woods, Pierson picked up a Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and two Emmy nods for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special and Outstanding Made for Television Movie for his bright work in the HBO film Conspiracy (2001), a docudrama about the Wanasee Conference wherein the Nazis outlined The Final Solution. He went on to direct the television films Soldier’s Girl (2003), which led to his next Emmy nomination, and Paradise (2004).