Remembering Frank Pierson

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Frank Pierson, Artistic Director of the AFI Conservatory and member of the Institute's Board of Trustees since 2005, died at his home in Los Angeles on July 23 at the age of 87.

Pierson served as President of the Writers Guild of America, West, Inc., from 1981-1983 and 1993-1995; and was President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences from 2001-2005.

It was Pierson who wrote the legendary line: "What we've got here is failure to communicate" from COOL HAND LUKE. However, in a letter to faculty and staff, AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale and AFI Conservatory Dean Bob Mandel remembered Pierson as a superb communicator. "The great irony that it was he who etched the line into the pantheon of pop culture is that nobody could communicate like Frank," they wrote. "With words imbued with wit and wisdom. With glances that had you stand a little straighter. With smiles that gave you the confidence to realize your dreams." Pierson was an outspoken champion of America's cinematic storytellers who resisted any narrowing of their artistic vision, whether imposed by government censorship abroad or the search for global profits by media conglomerates at home. Among Pierson's other film credits are CAT BALLOU, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and A STAR IS BORN. His television credits include such contemporary hits as MAD MEN and THE GOOD WIFE and reach back to another era with HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL; NAKED CITY and ROUTE 66. In addition to writing, Pierson directed many television movies, including DIRTY PICTURES, CITIZEN COHN, CONSPIRACY and SOMEBODY HAS TO SHOOT THE PICTURE.

Pierson was born in Chappaqua, New York, and attended Harvard College. His mother, Louise Randall, was a screenwriter portrayed by Rosalind Russell in the film ROUGHLY SPEAKING (1945). Jack Carson played his father, Harold C. Pierson. He is survived by his wife, Helene Pierson, two children and five grandchildren.