Home Movie CraftsScreenwriters Frank Pierson: Dog Day Afternoon Screenwriter + A Star Is Born Writer-Director

Frank Pierson: Dog Day Afternoon Screenwriter + A Star Is Born Writer-Director

‘Dog Day Afternoon’ Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Pierson has died

Former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Frank Pierson, among whose screenwriting credits are Dog Day Afternoon, A Star Is Born, and Cool Hand Luke, died at age 87 on July 23 in the Los Angeles area.

Frank Pierson: From Cat Ballou to Dog Day Afternoon

Born on May 12, 1925, in Chappaqua, New York, the Harvard-educated Pierson began his show business career writing for television in the late 1950s. His first feature-film screenwriting credit was for Elliot Silverstein’s comic Western Cat Ballou (1965), starring Jane Fonda in the title role and featuring a drunken horse. A surprise box office success, Cat Ballou earned Lee Marvin an equally surprising Best Actor Academy Award, while Pierson and Walter Newman were nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. (They lost to Robert Bolt for Doctor Zhivago.)

Two years later, Frank Pierson received his second Academy Award nomination: for Stuart Rosenberg’s prison drama Cool Hand Luke (1967), starring Paul Newman in the title role. Pierson co-wrote the screenplay with author Donn Pearce, author of the novel on which the film is based. (They lost to Stirling Silliphant for Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night.)

Pierson’s best-known screenwriting credit is Sidney Lumet’s bank heist drama / scathing social commentary Dog Day Afternoon (1975), starring Al Pacino as an emotionally unstable man who stages a bank robbery to pay for his boyfriend’s sex-change operation. One of the seminal movies of the ’70s, Dog Day Afternoon was both a critical and a box office hit, earning six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. Oscar night was dominated by Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but Pierson took home that year’s Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Frank Pierson’s other screenplays received less acclaim. Those include Elliot Silverstein’s The Happening (1967), about hippies and the mafia, and starring Michael Parks, George Maharis, and Anthony Quinn; Pierson’s first directorial effort, The Looking Glass War (1969), based on John Le Carré’s novel, and starring Christopher Jones and Pia Degermark; and the minor Sidney Lumet thriller The Anderson Tapes (1971), with Sean Connery and Dyan Cannon.

Pierson’s biggest box office success as a writer-director came in 1976, with the release of the third (official) version of A Star Is Born, this time transposed to the world of rock music. Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson starred in the critically lambasted melodrama that grossed a reported $80 million*.

Frank Pierson’s biggest box office hit: A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born was followed by the box office disappointment King of the Gypsies (1978), which is chiefly notable for its eclectic cast: Sterling Hayden, Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields, Annette O’Toole, Annie Potts, Michael V. Gazzo, Eric Roberts, Judd Hirsch, and Shelley Winters (plus, as per the IMDb, Patti LuPone in a bit role).

After King of the Gypsies, there would be only a handful of scripts. As per the IMDb, Frank Pierson co-wrote the TV movie Haywire (1980), starring Emmy nominee Lee Remick as Universal / MGM actress Margaret Sullavan, and Jason Robards as Sullavan’s husband and powerhouse agent Leland Hayward; Norman Jewison’s little-seen drama In Country (1989), with Bruce Willis, Emily Lloyd, and Joan Allen; the Alan J. Pakula-directed Harrison Ford thriller Presumed Innocent (1990), and a couple of scripts for the TV series The Good Wife and Mad Men.

Besides his Dog Day Afternoon Academy Award, among Pierson’s other accolades was the Laurel Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Writers Guild of America, an organization he presided from 1981-83 and 1993-95. Pierson also shared with his fellow Mad Men writers the 2010 WGA Award for Best Drama Series.

A Star Is Born box office figure via Boxofficemojo.com. That’s clearly an approximation.

Frank Pierson photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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