Acclaimed screenwriter and producer Alan Ball, a Georgia native, has won many awards during his successful career in television and film. Between 1999 and 2003 Ball received an Oscar, a Peabody, two Golden Globes, and six Emmys for his work.
Ball was born in Atlanta in 1957 and grew up in Marietta. He attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he majored in theater with a concentration in acting and playwriting.
After graduating from Florida State in 1980, Ball moved to New York City. He worked first as an art director for such magazines as AdWeek and Inside PR. By the early 1990s he was on his way to becoming a critically lauded playwright, as several of his comedies were produced at various off-Broadway theaters. His play The M Word premiered at the inaugural Lucille Ball Festival of New American Comedy in 1991. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, which debuted in 1993 at the Manhattan Class Company, depicts a group of bridesmaids at a wedding. It quickly became his best-known play and helped secure Hollywood interest in his playwriting. Other notable plays from this period include Made for a Woman, Bachelor Holiday, The Amazing Adventures of Tense Guy, and Your Mother’s Butt.
By 1994 Ball had moved to Hollywood, California, after Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, the producers of the situation comedy Grace under Fire, read one of his plays and offered him a position as story editor and script writer for the show. After working on Grace under Fire for one season, he moved to another Carsey and Werner sitcom, Cybill, starring Cybill Shepherd. During his three years with Cybill (1995-98), Ball moved from coproducer to executive coproducer, in addition to writing for the show.
While working on Cybill, Ball began to write a new screenplay inspired by his musings on the case of Amy Fisher, a teenager who shot her lover’s wife on Long Island, New York, in 1992. Puzzled by the media circus that had attended the court case, which inspired three made-for-television movies, he began to write a play that examined what might make people act so bizarrely.
After several years of revision, his play became the Academy Award–winning screenplay for American Beauty (1999), Ball’s first feature film. The script won both the Writers Guild of America Award and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as well as the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. The movie itself won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2006 Ball’s script was named one of the 101 greatest screenplays by the Writers Guilds of America, east and west.
While American Beauty was reaping both critical and commercial acclaim, Ball returned to television, without much success at first. A show called Oh, Grow Up failed quickly on ABC in the fall of 1999, and Ball felt frustrated by content restraints on network television. He decided instead to work with HBO’s original programming department and created a new program called Six Feet Under, which debuted in June 2001. This hour-long series focused on a family of morticians in southern California. The show became a bona fide hit for the network, earning both awards and impressive ratings. Ball won an Emmy Award and a Directors Guild of America Award for the show’s pilot, which was his directorial debut. The program also won a 2002 Peabody Award.