Alan Ball

Active - 1999 - 2020  |   Born - May 13, 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia, United States  |   Genres - Comedy Drama, Drama

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

The screenwriter and co-producer of American Beauty, Alan Ball earned almost overnight acclaim and recognition for his screenplay for the film, which won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and Golden Globe, as well as numerous other honors. Ball's success was a long time coming; much of the frustration and anger felt by American Beauty's protagonist, Lester Burnham, was inspired by the screenwriter's own dissatisfaction with his years spent working as a television writer and producer.

Born in Atlanta in 1957 and raised in the neighboring community of Marietta, Ball studied Theatre with an emphasis on acting and playwriting at Florida State University. After graduating, he moved to New York, where he became a noted playwright. Among the plays he penned were The Amazing Adventures of Tense Guy, Your Mother's Butt, Made for a Woman, and Five Women Wearing the Same Dress; when the latter premiered in 1993 at the Manhattan Class Company, it featured Allison Janney, with whom Ball would later work on American Beauty.

After moving to Hollywood, Ball began working on the TV sitcom Grace Under Fire, and then became a writer and eventually an executive co-producer for the sitcom Cybill for three seasons. While working in television, he channeled his frustration into the script for American Beauty, which was eventually picked up by DreamWorks. Working closely with director Sam Mendes, Ball was given a remarkable degree of control over his screenplay, and American Beauty premiered in 1999 to ecstatic reviews and a host of award nominations. A cynical but ultimately redemptive story about a man's mid-life crisis and journey to rediscover his passion for living, it reflected Ball's own outlook, which he has described as "equal parts brutally cynical and achingly romantic." The film earned a number of international awards, including Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (for Kevin Spacey), Best Director, and Best Picture.

When his latest ABC sitcom, Oh, Grow Up, died a quick death in the fall of 1999 just as Beauty began to take off, Ball was determined to escape the language and content constraints of network TV. Fending off many other offers, the writer-producer chose to align himself with HBO's immensely successful original programming department to release Six Feet Under in June of 2001. Inspired in part by Tony Richardson's 1965 satire The Loved One, the hour-long series focused on a family of morticians brought together by the untimely death of their father and featured Ball's now-trademark mix of ironic situations with sardonic dialogue.

The show has a highly-successful, occasionally controversial, five-season run on HBO. When it wrapped production, Ball went to work on his feature-film directorial debut Towelhead. Though the film didn't make much of an impression at the box office, Ball returned to HBO in 2008 with True Blood, a series about Southern vampires that quickly earned a fervent cult following and a fair amount of critical success.

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  • Was greatly affected by witnessing the death of his sister in a car accident when he was 13.
  • Founding member of both the General Nonsense Theater Company in Florida and the Alarm Dog Repertory Theater Company in New York City.
  • Received his first writing job for television after a Hollywood executive saw a production of his play Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.
  • Openly negative about his time writing for the shows Grace Under Fire and Cybill, admitting that his anger from working on the two sitcoms fed his inspiration while writing the Oscar-winning screenplay for American Beauty.