Pierson was born in Chappaqua, New York, the son of Louise (née Randall), a writer, and Harold C. Pierson. Pierson's family was the subject of his mother's 1943 autobiography Roughly Speaking and a 1945 movie of the same name, starring Rosalind Russell and Jack Carson as his parents.
Pierson served in the military during World War II, then graduated from Harvard. He worked as a correspondent for Time and Life magazines before selling his first script to Alcoa-Goodyear Theater. He got his break in Hollywood in 1958 as script editor for Have Gun – Will Travel and moved on to write for the television series Naked City, Route 66 and others. He wrote or co-wrote several successful films, including Cat Ballou and Cool Hand Luke, which were both nominated for Academy Awards. He wrote Dog Day Afternoon, which won Pierson the Academy Award. He directed and contributed to the screenplay of the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born; and the in-fighting between himself, Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson and producer (and at the time boyfriend of Streisand) Jon Peters on the film led him to write the article "My Battles with Barbra and Jon" for The Village Voice.
Pierson directed several films produced for television, including Dirty Pictures, Citizen Cohn, Conspiracy, and Somebody Has To Shoot the Picture. His direction on Conspiracy won a Directors' Guild Award for Best Television Movie, and his second Peabody and BAFTA Award.
He was President of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) from 1981 to 1983 and again from 1993 to 1995 and was President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) from 2001 to 2005. In 2003, Pierson was the recipient of the Austin Film Festival's Distinguished Screenwriter Award. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland presented him with the Award. He was a consultant on Mad Men, co-writing (with Matthew Weiner) the fifth episode of its fifth season, "Signal 30", a member of the teaching staff of Sundance Institute, and Artistic Director of the American Film Institute.
Pierson died on July 22, 2012 in his home in Los Angeles, California. He was survived by his wife Helene and his two children.
|Non-profit organization positions|
|President of Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences