Paddy Chayefsky


Playwright, Screenwriter

About

Also Known As
Sidney Aaron Chayefsky, Sidney Aaron
Birth Place
Bronx, New York, USA
Born
January 29, 1923
Died
August 01, 1981
Cause of Death
Cancer

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 r...

Family & Companions

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

Bibliography

"Altered States"
Paddy Chayefsky (1978)
"The Plays of Paddy Chayefsky"
Paddy Chayefsky (1955)

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.

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 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

Life Events

1945

Uncredited feature film debut as co-commentary writer for the award-winning documentary "The True Glory"

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

Videos

Movie Clip

Network (1976) - The Popular Rage TV entertainment executive Diana (Faye Dunaway in her Academy Award-winning role) first with her assistant (Conchata Ferrell) then with network big shot Hackett (Robert Duvall), raving about the anchorman gone-mad, in Paddy Chayefsky's Network, 1976.
Network (1976) - Open, Howard Beale Howard K. Smith, John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite appear in narrated opening to Sidney Lumet's Network, 1976, which also introduces Howard (Peter Finch) and Max (William Holden), from Paddy Chayefsky's script.
Marty (1955) - I'm The Stocky One Unmarried butcher Ernest Borgnine (title character), in one of the scenes that doubtless won him his Academy Award, having grown alarmed over proposed changes in his domestic status, calls up a girl he hardly knows, Delbert Mann directing from Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay, in Marty, 1955.
Marty (1955) - Blind Date With A Dog Visiting the "Stardust Ballroom" in the Bronx, having grown desperate about his bachelor status, Ernest Borgnine (title character) meets callous "Herb," (Nick Brkch), whose treatment of Clara (Betsy Blair), whom we've just met, displeases him, in director Delbert Mann's Marty, 1955.
Marty (1955) - I Have A Feeling About You Having unexpectedly hit it off with Clara (Betsy Blair), a schoolteacher dumped on a blind date whom he graciously rescued, bachelor butcher Ernest Borgnine (title character) winds up talking about his life and family, in his Academy Award-winning performance in Marty, 1955.
Marty (1955) - They Get The Married The opening from director Delbert Mann and writer Paddy Chayefsky, Ernest Borgnine in his Academy Award-winning title role, character actress Minerva Urecal his customer, in Marty, 1955, co-starring Betsy Blair.
Network (1976) - I'm Going To Blow My Brains Out Ending the credits and leading into the precipitating event, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), just-dismissed anchor for the fictional UBS network news, draws no attention in the control room, profanity ensuing, Sidney Lumet directing from Paddy Chayefsky’s celebrated original screenplay, in Network, 1976.
Network (1976) - Middle Of Act Two Beatrice Straight (as "Louise") in the scene that won her Academy Award as supporting actress, with husband Max (William Holden) who's just confessed his affair with a younger TV executive, in Paddy Chayefsky's Network, 1976.
Catered Affair, The (1956) - Your One Living Daughter Just after the opening, the low key announcement from Jane (Debbie Reynolds) to mom Aggie (Bette Davis) and cabby dad Tom (Ernest Borgnine) that she plans to marry, in The Catered Affair, 1956, from Paddy Chayefsky's teleplay and Gore Vidal's screenplay.
Middle Of The Night (1959) - Everybody Starts Dropping Dead Credits having navigated in through Manhattan's garment district, meeting Kim Novak as receptionist "Betty," Fredric March as boss "Jerry," Ruby Bond, Lou Gilbert and Albert Dekker his crew, Delbert Mann directing from Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay, in Middle Of The Night, 1959.
Middle Of The Night (1959) - Like It Was A Gas Chamber Widowed garment-firm boss Jerry (Fredric March) drops by the Upper East Side apartment where part-time receptionist and model Betty (Kim Novak) has just finished a typing job she brought home from work, in Middle Of The Night, 1959, from a Paddy Chayefsky screenplay.
Middle Of The Night (1959) - Really In Love Widower Manhattan apparel executive Jerry (Fredric March) not chatting but negotiating with divorced employee Betty (Kim Novak) about their romantic prospects, exactly as you'd expect in a Paddy Chayefsky script from his own play, in Middle Of The Night, 1959, directed by Delbert Mann.

Trailer

Family

Harry Chayefsky
Father
Gussie Chayefsky
Mother
Daniel Chayefsky
Son

Companions

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

Bibliography

"Altered States"
Paddy Chayefsky (1978)
"The Plays of Paddy Chayefsky"
Paddy Chayefsky (1955)

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."