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Five key films showcase Frank Pierson's talent

July 23, 2012|By Susan King
  • Frank Pierson earned a DGA award for his work on the 2001 HBO film "Conspiracy."
Frank Pierson earned a DGA award for his work on the 2001 HBO film "Conspiracy." (Stephen F. Morley / HBO )

Writer-director Frank Pierson, who died Sunday at age 87, wasn't a household name. But the Oscar winner and former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was a filmmaker of notable intelligence and insight -- not to mention stamina. He was actively working as a consultant on AMC's"Mad Men" and even wrote one of this past season's scripts with creator Matthew Weiner. And anybody who interviewed him or got to spend time with him found him to be warm, friendly and not afraid to voice his opinions.

But if you want to see Pierson at the peak of his powers, check out these films:

"The Neon Ceiling" (1971): Pierson wrote and directed this Emmy Award-winning NBC TV movie starring Lee Grant as a bored housewife who, escaping a bad marriage, stops with her teenage daughter at a roadside diner in the California desert where she meets the diner's gruff owner (Gig Young).

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"Dog Day Afternoon"(1975): After earning screenplay nominations for the 1965 comedy "Cat Ballou" and the 1967 drama "Cool Hand Luke," Pierson won the Academy Award for his screenplay of this Sidney Lumet classic about a botched robbery attempt.

"Citizen Cohn" (1992): Pierson earned a Directors Guild of America nomination, as well as an Emmy nomination for his direction of this HBO biopic on attorney Roy Cohn (James Woods), who became famous in the 1950s during Sen. Joseph McCarthy's communist witch hunt.

"Truman" (1995): Pierson was again nominated for the DGA award for this HBO biographical drama based on David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning  book of the same name about President Truman (Gary Sinise).

"Conspiracy" (2001): Chilling HBO historical drama on the 1942 Wannsee Conference -- a secret meeting of top Nazi officials who were involved in the creation of the Nazi "final solution." Pierson received the DGA Award for his exceptional film, which also saw  Kenneth Branagh receiving an Emmy for lead actor.

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