RIP Frank Pierson

A sensational writer. If you love great, funny, serious films and TV (yes, that’s intentional) you probably already love Pierson’s work even if you didn’t know he was the writer.

Former President of Motion Picture Academy Dies — He Wrote One of the Movies’ Most Iconic Lines Deadline
by TeamTVWriter Press Service

A veteran TV and movie screenwriter, director and producer who served as president of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Writers Guild-West has died, Deadline.com reports. Frank Pierson was 87.

“Gentlemanly yet ornery, meticulous yet creative, Pierson compiled a remarkable writing resume, starting in the 1950s with television shows like ‘Have Gun — Will Travel’ and ‘Playhouse 90,’ followed by five decades of films like ‘Cat Ballou’ (screenplay by Walter Newman and Frank R. Pierson), ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (screenplay by Frank Pierson), ‘A Star Is Born’ (screenplay by Joan Didion & John Gregory Dunne and Frank Pierson), ‘In Country’ (screenplay by Frank Pierson and Cynthia Cidre), and ‘Presumed Innocent’ (screenplay by Frank Pierson and Alan J. Pakula),” the piece reports.

In 1971-72, Pierson created-wrote-produced the TV series NICHOLS, starring James Garner in a role that some – namely all of us here at TVWriter™ – completely overshadowed Garner’s earlier Maverick and later Rockford. Late in his career, Pierson was a consulting producer on AMC’s “Mad Men” and CBS’s “The Good Wife.”

Pierson created some movie lines that have become iconic quotes, the story notes. The Writers Guild pointed out one of them in a statement: “Odds are, all of you know the famous line he came up with while writing 1967’s ‘Cool Hand Luke’ (screenplay by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson): ‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.’ The line was not in Pearce’s original novel. (‘The phrase just sort of appeared on the page. I looked at it and thought, “Now that’s interesting.”’ Pierson to the WGA described his process this way: ‘Sit down at 10 o’clock in the morning and write anything that comes into my head until 12. One of the few things I’ve discovered about writing is to form a habit that becomes an addiction so that if you don’t put something down on paper every day, you get really mean and awful with withdrawal symptoms, and your wife and your dog and your kids are going to kick your ass until you get back to it because they can’t bear you in that state of mind.’”

Deadline reports: “Pierson was born in Chappaqua, N.Y., and attended Harvard. (Pierson’s parents, family and their lives, were the subject of the 1945 film ‘Roughly Speaking,’ starring Rosalind Russell and Jack Carson.) He got his break in Hollywood in 1958 as scripted editor for ‘Have Gun — Will Travel’ and moved on to write for the television series ‘Naked City,’ ‘Route 66’ and others. He went on to write or co-write many notable Academy Award-nominated films including ‘Cat Ballou’ and ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ It was ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ which won Pierson his Oscar.”

Pierson directed and worked on the screenplay for “A Star Is Born,” a project that produced notorious conflict behind the scenes. “The in-fighting on the film between himself, Barbra Streisand, her boyfriend/producer Jon Peters, and Kris Kristofferson led him to write the notorious and controversial article ‘My Battles With Barbra And Jon’ in New West magazine,” Deadline reports. “Many felt that his talking-out-of-school about Hollywood bigwigs irreparably damaged his career.”

Pierson was president of the Writers Guild of America-West twice, from 1981-83 and again from 1993-95. He was president of the Motion Picture Academy from 2001-05. He also was one of the writing heroes of our boss, Larry Brody, “from the first time I heard his name, in conjunction with ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ to now. I admired Pierson not only as a writer but as a human being. Everything I’ve seen and heard about his work and his life said he was, for all practical – and impractical – purposes, a man without fear.”