It would be enough for anyone’s obituary to contain the fact that they wrote the script for Dog Day Afternoon and won an Oscar for it. But Frank Pierson’s life included much more than that, encompassing other big writing jobs, directing and being the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He died yesterday at the age of 87.
Pierson worked in movies and TV for more than 50 years, starting his career in advertising before moving to work on the Western series Have Gun Will Travel.
His early efforts in movies saw him make a name for himself almost immediately, crafting the script for 1965’s Cat Ballou and 1967’s The Happening. And then he jumped to the next level, co-writing Cool Hand Luke with novelist Donn Pearce.
The director’s chair beckoned for the adaptation of John Le Carre’s thriller The Looking Glass War, and though he didn’t find quite the same level of satisfaction or success directing, he was still responsible for the likes of A Star Is Born and King Of The Gypsies. He also won more acclaim working on TV movies.
But his big legacy came with 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon, which saw him pick up his Academy Award. He’d go on to run the Academy itself from 2001 until 2005.
Pierson was working in television until very recently, acting as consulting producer on The Good Wife and channelling his former career to serve the same function on Mad Men, including writing an episode this year, Signal 30.
"Young rock 'n' rollers always look to the old bluesmen as models of how to keep their art strong and rebellious into older years. For screenwriters, Frank has been our old blues master for a long time. From great, great movies like Cat Ballou, Cool Hand Luke and Dog Day Afternoon, to his joining the writing staffs of The Good Wife and Mad Men well past his 80th birthday, he's always shown us – better than anyone else – how to do it with class, grace, humour, strength, brilliance, generosity and a joyful tenacity," Academy governor of the writers branch Phil Robinson in a statement picked up the Hollywood Reporter. "He was both a great and a good man.”
So say all of us. He’s survived by his wife Helen, two children and five grandchildren.