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Also Known As: Sidney Aaron Chayefsky, Sidney Aaron Died: August 1, 1981
Born: January 29, 1923 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Bronx, New York, USA Profession: screenwriter, playwright, novelist, producer, comic, actor, printer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Arguably the most influential writer to emerge from the Golden Age of television, screenwriter and playwright Paddy Chayefsky demonstrated an informed respect for common people and their everyday problems in a social realism that proved ideal for the new medium. But ultimately it was his scathing satirical bite demonstrated in "The Hospital" (1971) and "Network" (1976) that he was best remembered, for which he harnessed his righteous anger in skewing medicine and network television. Before those two Oscar-winning films, however, Chayefsky made his name in writing the famed kitchen sink television play, "Marty" (1953), which he adapted into an acclaimed award-winning film starring Ernest Borgnine two years later. After "The Bachelor Party" (1957) and "The Goddess" (1958), he wrote the semi-satirical black comedy "The Americanization of Emily" (1964) and the musical comedy-Western "Paint Your Wagon" (1969). Chayefsky turned his deep-rooted ire toward societal ills that were becoming more apparent during the counterculture, leading to writing "The Hospital" and "Network." Whether writing the social realism of "Marty" or the scathing satires of the 1970s, Chayefsky was that rare writer able to possess...

Arguably the most influential writer to emerge from the Golden Age of television, screenwriter and playwright Paddy Chayefsky demonstrated an informed respect for common people and their everyday problems in a social realism that proved ideal for the new medium. But ultimately it was his scathing satirical bite demonstrated in "The Hospital" (1971) and "Network" (1976) that he was best remembered, for which he harnessed his righteous anger in skewing medicine and network television. Before those two Oscar-winning films, however, Chayefsky made his name in writing the famed kitchen sink television play, "Marty" (1953), which he adapted into an acclaimed award-winning film starring Ernest Borgnine two years later. After "The Bachelor Party" (1957) and "The Goddess" (1958), he wrote the semi-satirical black comedy "The Americanization of Emily" (1964) and the musical comedy-Western "Paint Your Wagon" (1969). Chayefsky turned his deep-rooted ire toward societal ills that were becoming more apparent during the counterculture, leading to writing "The Hospital" and "Network." Whether writing the social realism of "Marty" or the scathing satires of the 1970s, Chayefsky was that rare writer able to possess tremendous name recognition and artistic control in a medium dominated by directors.

Born Sidney Aaron Chayefsky on Jan. 29, 1923 in the Bronx, NY and raised by Ukrainian Jewish parents, Harry and Gussie, Chayefsky attended DeWitt Clinton High School, graduating in 1939 and moving on to City College of New York. He enlisted in the U.S. army during World War I, serving in the 104th Infantry Division where he earned his nickname Paddy and a purple heart for being wounded by a landmine near Aachen, Germany. While recovering, Chayefsky wrote the musical comedy "No T.O. for Love," which was produced by the Special Services Unit in 1945 and toured European army bases for the next two years. It later opened in London's famed West End, marking the official start of his theatrical career. But upon relocation to the United States, Chayefsky went to work at his uncle's print shop while struggling to stage theatrical productions, though he did manage to sell a couple of plays that went unproduced. He also contributed to writing the commentary on the award-winning documentary "The True Glory" (1945), but did not receive credit for his work.

In the late 1940s, Chayefsky relocated to Los Angeles where he met and married Susan Sackler, but failed to find any work so he moved back to New York. He soon started writing short stories, radio scripts for "Theatre Guild of the Air," and gags for Robert Q. Lewis, leading to his first produced feature with "As Young as You Feel" (1951), starring Monty Woolley, Thelma Ritter and a then unknown starlet named Marilyn Monroe. In 1952, Chayefsky segued to television with episodes of the anthology series "Danger" (CBS, 1950-55) and "The Philco Television Playhouse" (NBC, 1948-1955), but was propelled into an overnight start for the television play "Marty" (1953), which aired live on NBC's "Goodyear TV Playhouse." A poignant drama, "Marty" starred Rod Steiger as a hard-working butcher from the Bronx who pines for love, but finds himself in the company of a shy schoolteacher (Nancy Marchand). From there, Chayefsky wrote some of television's greatest dramas of the Golden Age, including "The Bachelor Party" (NBC, 1953), "The Sixth Year" (NBC, 1953), "Middle of the Night" (NBC, 1954) and "The Catered Affair" (NBC, 1955).

Though he made the jump to features in 1951 with "As Young as You Feel," Chayefsky made a much more significant impact with his heartwarming adaptation of "Marty" (1955), transforming Ernest Borgnine from an uninteresting heavy to the lonely Bronx butcher who, against all odds, finds true love. The Oscar-winning Best Picture was an overwhelming critical and commercial success, earning additional Academy Awards for Chayefsky, Borgnine and director Delbert Mann, as well as immortalizing the line "I don't know. What do you want to do tonight, Marty?" and setting a trend for low-budgeted, prosaic films. Chayefsky took his unerring ear for credible conversation to the stage, conquering Broadway with "Middle of the Night" (1956), based on his teleplay from 1954. The examination of a May-December romance starred Edward G. Robinson - his first Broadway performance in 25 years - opposite a young Gena Rowlands in parts that Fredric March and Kim Novak would assume for the 1959 feature directed by Mann. Mann also directed "The Bachelor Party" (1957), another adaptation of Chayefsky teleplay which attempted to capitalize on the success of "Marty." A finely acted film featuring the writer's matter-of-fact dialogue, Mann's straightforward approach failed to elevate "The Bachelor Party" above the ordinary.

Chayefsky followed up with writing the script for "The Goddess" (1958), a showbiz drama about a poor young woman (Kim Stanley) who aspires to be a star in a story very reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe's rise to stardom. The film earned him a second Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. After writing the stage plays "The Tenth Man" (1960) and "Gideon" (1961), he wrote "The Americanization of Emily" (1964), a darkly comic drama about a cowardly naval officer (James Garner) who avoids battle by hiding out in London where he falls for a war widow (Julie Andrews), only to become a hero himself after leading the charge on D-Day. Back to the stage, he wrote "The Latent Heterosexual" (1967) and adapted the musical comedy "Paint Your Wagon" (1969) for the screen, which starred Lee Marvin as a grizzled prospector, Clint Eastwood as his sheepish partner, and Jean Seberg as a rebellious Mormon woman purchased by Marvin at auction. All three stars embarrassed themselves in trying to sing various musical numbers, leading critics to savage the film upon its release, though time would look upon it more kindly.

Chayefsky reinvented himself in the 1970s as one of the most bitingly satirical and prophetic writers in the history of feature films - a far cry from his kitchen sink realism of the previous two decades. First he savagely skewered the medical industry with "The Hospital" (1971), a seething, rage-filled satire starring George C. Scott as an eminent but suicidal surgeon who finds himself losing control of his life, hospital and own desire to heal while patients start to mysteriously die around him. Hailed by some critics and misunderstood by others, "The Hospital" featured some of Chayefsky's finest dialogue - including Scott's five-minute monologue on impotence - and earned him his second Oscar for Best Screenplay. He followed up with what became his defining film, "Network" (1976), an outrageous skewering of the television culture starring William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Peter Finch as the mad prophet of the airwaves Howard Beale, a TV anchor man whose on-air descent into madness turn him into a ratings hit. Featuring one of cinema's most famous lines - "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" - "Network" boasted one brilliant performance after another and delivered Chayefsky his third Academy Award for Best Screenplay, making him the first scribe to win the Oscar as sole writer.

After winning the Oscar for "Network", Chayefsky embarked on his next film, "Altered States" (1980), which the writer adapted from his novel of the same name. After sparring with original director Arthur Penn, who quit before production began, Chayefsky disowned replacement director Ken Russell's final cut, a pretty package of state-of-the-art special effects but ultimately a silly sci-fi affair about an abnormal psychology professor who uses drugs and sensory deprivation to prove his theory that other states of consciousness are real, leading to radical psychological and even physical changes. Chayefsky's extreme unhappiness with the discordant result prompted him to opt for a pseudonymous credit, taking the name Sidney Aaron instead of his own. The fact that Russell refused to respect the integrity of his script came as quite a shock to a man who had enjoyed as much autonomy as any writer had ever enjoyed in Hollywood. It would be the last film he would ever make. Chayefsky died only nine months after the release of "Altered States," succumbing to cancer on Aug. 1, 1981. He was 58.

By Shawn Dwyer

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 A Double Life (1948) Photographer
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Attempted to break into show business as a stand-up comic
:
Served in US Army Infantry; awarded the Purple Heart
:
Wrote first play, the musical "No T.O. for Love", while convalescing in England from injuries incurred from German land mine in WWII; show was performed for GIs throughout Europe and in London's West End
1945:
Uncredited feature film debut as co-commentary writer for the award-winning documentary "The True Glory"
:
Wrote short stories, documentary films and radio scripts for "Theatre Guild of the Air"
1947:
Played bit part in "A Double Life"
1951:
First story credit for "As Young as You Feel"
1952:
Began writing for TV, contributing to "Suspense" (CBS), "Manhunt" (NBC) and "Philco Television Playhouse" (NBC)
1953:
Became famous overnight after "Marty" aired on "Goodyear TV Playhouse"; subsequently penned such acclaimed 'Golden Age' teleplays as "The Bachelor Party", "Sixth Year" "The Catered Affair" and "Middle of the Night"
1955:
First film as screenwriter and associate producer, "Marty" (adapted from own TV script), directed by Delbert Mann (who had also helmed teleplay); earned first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay
1956:
First Broadway play, "Middle of the Night" (adapted from TV script), a romantic drama starring Edward G. Robinson (returning to the stage after a 25-year absence) and Gena Rowlands
1957:
Reteamed with Mann for feature film version of "The Bachelor Party", receiving credit as associate producer
1958:
Scripted "The Goddess", starring Kim Stanley
1959:
Third film with Mann, "Middle of the Night", featuring Kim Novak and Fredric March
1960:
"The Tenth Man" opened on Broadway
1961:
"Gideon" opened on Broadway; George Schaefer would direct a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" (NBC) version in 1971
1964:
Wrote screenplay for Arthur Hiller's "The Americanization of Emily"
1969:
Adapted the libretto for the ill-fated screen version of "Paint Your Wagon"
1971:
Won second Academy Award (for Best Original Screenplay) for Hiller's "The Hospital"
1976:
Receieved third Oscar for the scathingly satirical "Network"
1980:
Asked that his name be removed from credits of final feature film, "Altered States"; script credited to Sidney Aaron
1994:
PBS' "Great Performances" aired remake of his "The Mother", originally broadcast on "Goodyear TV Playhouse" (NBC); used orginial script
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

De Witt Clinton High School: Bronx , New York - 1939
City College of New York: New York , New York - 1943

Notes

Inducted into the Television Hall Academy Hall of Fame (1984)

The nickname 'Paddy' supposedly came from his attempts, while in the army, to avoid Sunday morning K.P. on the pretext of attending Mass.

"Television is democracy at its ugliest." --Paddy Chayefsky

The Boston Globe (April 15, 1958) reported Chayefsky telling Harvard students about New York's critics that "writers suffer more from the attacks of the nine incompetants--who are usually drunk--than they would from the most violent personal onslaught." The playwright later said the paper got it wrong. There are seven critics, and what he said was that "you cannot dismiss a whole city's critics as incompetent drunks."

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Susan Sackler. Married from February 24, 1949 until his death; died on July 1, 2000.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Harry Chayefsky.
mother:
Gussie Chayefsky.
son:
Daniel Chayefsky.

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Plays of Paddy Chayefsky"
"Altered States"

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