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Obit: Screenwriter Frank Pierson Fought Against the Impoverishment of Film Language

Photo of Aljean Harmetz By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood July 23, 2012 at 7:04PM

Frank Pierson, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay of “Dog Day Afternoon” in 1975, was nominated for two other Oscars, and then turned himself into an Emmy-winning director, died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 87 after a short illness.
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For decades, as leader of the American Film Institute Conservatory Narrative Workshop, Pierson moderated sessions where teams of filmmakers presented their work to other AFI Fellows. His only rule: the filmmakers could not speak. "They were there to listen and learn," writes AFI chief Bob Gazzale in an email. "Frank led these gatherings with an iron fist and an open heart – challenging and inspiring a new generation to make movies – and always, to reach for more."

Born on May 12, 1925 in Chappaqua, New York and a graduate of Harvard University, Pierson got his first Hollywood break as script editor on the TV series, “Have Gun Will Travel.”  His movie credits as a writer include “Presumed Innocent” and “King of the Gypsies,” which he also directed.

He is survived by his wife, Helene, two children – Michael and Eve – and five grandchildren.

This article is related to: Stuck In Love, AFI, Obit


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.