Frank Pierson, a longtime Hollywood screenwriter, journalist and leader of both the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the Writers Guild of America, died Monday at the age of 87.
According to the Hollywood Reporter's obituary, Pierson died of natural causes following a short illness. Deadline Hollywood reports that Pierson's death was confirmed by his manager. He was president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences from 2001 to 2005 and of the Writers Guild of America from 1981 to 1983 and 1993 to 1995.
The head of the Academy's writers branch, Phil Robinson, called Pierson an old blues master of the form that younger artists looked to to keep their art strong and rebellious into older years. Beginning his career in film in the 1950s following a brief stint in journalism as a correspondent for Time magazine, Pierson continued to work well into his 80s, serving as a consulting producer for Mad Men and The Good Wife on TV.
Frank Pierson began his career in Hollywood as a story editor for several TV shows, ultimately writing and directing several episodes for Have Gun, Will Travel and Route 66, The Wrap writes of his legacy. Eventually, Pierson moved into feature film as well, where he gained widespread critical acclaim for his work on movies like Cat Ballou and Cool Hand Luke, both of which received Oscar nominations. He won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on A Dog Day Afternoon, a 1975 crime thriller starring Al Pacino as a bombastic and unsuccessful bank robber.
These films gave their stars some of the most iconic performances of their careers, such as Al Pacino drumming up a crowd by shouting Attica! to instigate them against the police, and Paul Newman being, well, an unusually cool-handed poker player:
While Pierson was primarily recognized for his writing, he went on to direct several films as well, beginning with the 1969 film The Looking Glass War. He also directed Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the 1976 version of A Star Is Born, as well as King of the Gypsies in 1978.
Speaking in a 2003 interview for the Writers Guild, Pierson spoke frankly about his views of the quality of movie and television scripts today, something he felt declined throughout his long career:
I'm really disturbed about two things today. One is that among the big audience pictures, which are being financed by the major studios, the range of subject matter is so narrow and is aimed at a particularly small and not especially demanding audience ....The other thing, which I see with the people that I am teaching, is a matching impoverishment of the language of films .... For most of my students now, film history began with Steven Spielberg. Ironically, Steven himself was brought up studying the film of people who had a very board literary and liberal arts background.
Pierson is survived by his wife Helene, his children Michael and Eve, and five grandchildren, who are holding a private funeral this week.
The family requests contributions are made to STAND UP 2 CANCER.
Watch one of Pierson's memorable scenes from A Dog Day Afternoon below.