Sidney Aaron Chayefski (January 29, 1923 – August 1, 1981) known as Paddy Chayefsky was an acclaimed dramatist and novelist who made a transition from the golden age of American live television in the 1950s to a successful career as a playwright and screenwriter.
Chayefsky worked in the media of radio, television and film but is best known for his numerous screenplays for films such as Marty, Paint Your Wagon, The Hospital and Network. Winner of numerous awards, Network became something of a cult classic and defining film of the 1970s. The tag line of its protagonist, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," resonated with the viewing public in the era of Watergate. The film cataloged the growing importance of the media as well as the corrupting influence of wealth over the pursuit of journalistic integrity.
Born in the Bronx, New York in 1923 to Ukrainian Jewish parents, Chayefsky attended Dewitt Clinton High School, the City College of New York, graduating with a degree in accounting. He studied languages at Fordham University and joined the United States Army during World War II, receiving a Purple Heart. It was there he also received the nickname "Paddy." The nickname came about when Chayefsky was awakened at 5:00 am for kitchen duty. He asked to be excused so he could go to Mass. "Yesterday morning you said you were Jewish," said the duty officer. "Yes, but my mother is Irish," said Chayefsky. "Okay, Paddy," said the officer, and the name stuck.
Serving in the 104th Infantry Division in the European Theater, he was near Aachen, Germany when he was wounded, reportedly by a land mine. Recovering from his injuries in the Army Hospital near Cirencester, England, he wrote the book and lyrics to a musical comedy, No T.O. for Love. First produced in 1945 by the Special Services Unit, the show toured European Army bases for two years. The London opening of No T.O. for Love at the Scala Theatre in the West End marked the beginning of Chayefsky's theatrical career. During the London production of this musical, Chayefsky encountered Joshua Logan, a future collaborator, and Garson Kanin, who invited Chayefsky to join him in working on a documentary of the Allied invasion, The True Glory.
Returning to the United States, Chayefsky worked in his uncle's print shop, Regal Press, an experience which provided a background for his later teleplay, A Printer's Measure. Kanin enabled Chayefsky to spend time working on his second play, Put Them All Together (later known as M is for Mother), but it was never produced. Chayefsky was married to Susan Sackler in February 1949, and their son Dan was born six years later. Despite an alleged affair with Kim Novak, Paddy and Susan Chayefsky remained together until his death.
Chayefsky died in New York City of cancer in August 1981 at the age of 58, and was interred in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County, New York.
In the late 1940s, Chayefsky began working full time on short stories and radio scripts, and during this period, he was a gagwriter for radio host Robert Q. Lewis. In 1951-1952, Chayefsky did several adaptations for radio's Theater Guild on the Air: The Meanest Man in the World (with James Stewart), Tommy (with Van Heflin and Ruth Gordon) and Over 21 (with Wally Cox).
His writing for television began with a 1949 adaptation of Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? for producer Fred Coe's The Philco Television Playhouse, followed by an episode of Danger (1952) and an episode of The Gulf Playhouse (1953). Marty, telecast May 24, 1953 during the fifth season of The Philco Television Playhouse, featured Rod Steiger in the title role. The production, the actors and Chayefsky's naturalistic dialogue received much critical acclaim and introduced a new approach to live television drama. Martin Gottfried wrote, "He was a successful writer, the most successful graduate of television's slice of life school of naturalism."
Chayefsky gained the reputation as the pack leader of kitchen sink realism on television. Between 1949 and 1955, he delivered a dozen teleplays to Coe, including The Bachelor Party and The Catered Affair. One of these teleplays, Mother (April 4, 1954), received a new production October 24, 1994 on Great Performances with Anne Bancroft in the title role. Curiously, original teleplays from the 1950s Golden Age are almost never revived for new TV productions, so the 1994 production of Mother was a conspicuous rarity.
The seventh season of Philco Television Playhouse began September 19, 1954 with E. G. Marshall and Eva Marie Saint in Chayefsky's Middle of the Night, a play which moved to Broadway 15 months later and was filmed by Columbia Pictures in 1959.
Following the Philco years, Chayefsky's The Great American Hoax was seen May 15, 1957 during the second season of The 20th Century Fox Hour. This was actually a rewrite of his earlier Fox film, As Young as You Feel (1951) with Monty Woolley and Marilyn Monroe. In recent years, The Great American Hoax received showings on the FX channel when Fox did restorations of The 20th Century Fox Hour episodes and brought them back to TV under the title Fox Hour of Stars.
Chayefsky had a unique clause in his Marty contract that stated only he could write the screenplay, and the success of the live TV drama starring Rod Steiger led to a film two years later with Ernest Borgnine in the title role. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Chayefsky received an Academy Award for his screenplay.
After the success of Marty, he focused on films, scripting The Goddess, which starred Kim Stanley (for which he received an Oscar nomination) and The Bachelor Party. In the 1960s his credits included The Americanization of Emily, which featured James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn; and Paint Your Wagon, a screen vehicle for Lee Marvin. He won two more Oscars for The Hospital (1971) which starred George C. Scott and Diana Rigg, and Network (1976), which featured Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch (who won the Oscar for "Best Actor in a Leading Role") and Robert Duvall among other cast members. For both of these films Chayefsky received Golden Globe awards. He was awarded an Oscar for Network in the "Best Original Screenplay" category.
During the 1978 Oscar telecast, Vanessa Redgrave made a controversial speech denouncing the "Zionist hoodlums" who had threatened her (in reference to threats from the Jewish Defense League, identified by the FBI as a right-wing terrorist group). Two hours later, after no one had commented on her speech, Chayefsky stated his distaste for Redgrave's using the award event to make a political point: "I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation and a simple 'Thank you' would have sufficed." He received loud applause for his riposte to Redgrave. Later, in an interview, he stated that he was offended by her "cracks about Jews." After sitting and "praying somebody would say something," he commented when no one else did.
Network is a 1976 satirical film about a fictional television network, Union Broadcasting System (UBS), and its struggle with poor ratings. It was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, and stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall and features Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
The story opens with long-time "UBS Evening News" anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) being fired because of the show's low ratings. He has two more weeks on the air, but the following night, Beale announces on live television that he will commit suicide during an upcoming live broadcast.
UBS immediately fires him after this incident, but they let him back on the air, ostensibly for a dignified farewell, with persuasion from Beale's producer and best friend, Max Schumacher (William Holden), the network's old guard news editor. Beale promises that he will apologize for his outburst, but instead rants about how life is "bullshit." While there are serious repercussions, the program's ratings soar and, much to Schumacher's dismay, the upper echelons of UBS decide to exploit Beale's antics rather than pulling him off the air.
In one impassioned diatribe, Beale galvanizes the nation with his rant, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" and persuades Americans to shout out their windows during a spectacular lightning storm. Soon Beale is hosting a new program called The Howard Beale Show, top-billed as a "mad prophet of the airways." Ultimately, the show becomes the highest rated (Duvall's character calls it "a big fat, ... big-titted hit!") program on television, and Beale finds new celebrity preaching his angry message in front of a live audience that, on cue, repeats the Beale's marketed catchphrase en masse. His new set is lit by blue spotlights and an enormous stained-glass window, supplemented with segments featuring astrology, gossip, opinion polls, and yellow journalism.
Upon discovering that the conglomerate that owns UBS will be bought out by an even larger Saudi Arabian conglomerate, Beale launches an on-screen tirade against the two corporations, encouraging the audience to telegram the White House with the message, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more" in the hopes of stopping the merger. Beale is then taken to meet with Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), chairman of the company which owns UBS, who explicates his own "corporate cosmology" to the now nearly delusional Beale. Jensen delivers a lecture—almost a sermon—beginning by declaring to Beale, "You have meddled in the primal forces of nature" before describing the interrelatedness of the participants in the international economy, and the illusory nature of nationality distinctions. Jensen ultimately persuades Beale to abandon his populist messages. However, audiences find his new views on the dehumanization of society to be depressing, and ratings begin to slide.
Although Beale's ratings decline, the chairman will not allow executives to fire Beale as he spreads the new gospel. Obsessed as ever with UBS' ratings, Christensen arranges for Beale's on-air murder by the same group of urban terrorists who she discovered earlier and who now have their own UBS show, The Mao-Tse Tung Hour, a dynamite addition to the new fall line-up. This mirrors a drunken and sardonic conversation between Beale and Schumacher at the start of the film, that they should have a show featuring suicides and assassinations.
The movie ends with Beale being shot to death, with an array of televisions playing newscasts reporting the incident matter-of-factly, intermixed with the noise of commercials.
Vincent Canby, in his November 1976 review of the film for The New York Times, called the film "outrageous...brilliantly, cruelly funny, a topical American comedy that confirms Paddy Chayefsky's position as a major new American satirist" and a film whose "wickedly distorted views of the way television looks, sounds, and, indeed, is, are the satirist's cardiogram of the hidden heart, not just of television but also of the society that supports it and is, in turn, supported."
In a review of the film written after it received its Academy Awards, Roger Ebert called it a "supremely well-acted, intelligent film that tries for too much, that attacks not only television but also most of the other ills of the 1970s," though "what it does accomplish is done so well, is seen so sharply, is presented so unforgivingly, that Network will outlive a lot of tidier movies." Seen a quarter-century later, Ebert said the film was "like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and the World Wrestling Federation?"; he credits Lumet and Chayefsky for knowing "just when to pull out all the stops."
Chayefsky continued to write for the stage as well as the screen until the late 1960s. After the theatrical version of Middle of the Night opened on Broadway in 1956 starring Edward G. Robinson and Gena Rowlands, its success led to a national tour. The Tenth Man (1959) marked Chayefsky's second Broadway success, garnering Tony nominations in 1960 for Best Play, Best Director (Tyrone Guthrie) and Best Scenic Design. Guthrie received another nomination for Chayefsky's Gideon, as did actor Frederic March. Chayefsky's final Broadway production, a play based on the life of Joseph Stalin, The Passion of Josef D, was poorly received and ran for only 15 performances.
Inspired by the work of John C. Lilly, Chayefsky spent two years in Boston doing research to write his science fiction novel Altered States (HarperCollins, 1978), which he adapted for his last screenplay. In the film Chayefsky is credited under his real first and middle name, Sidney Aaron, because of disputes with director Ken Russell.
Network has continued to receive recognition, decades after its initial release. In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." In 2002, it was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame as a film that has "set an enduring standard for American entertainment." In 2006, Chayefsky's script was voted one of the top-ten movie scripts of all-time by the Writers Guild of America, East. In 2007, the film was 64th among the Top 100 Greatest American Films as chosen by the American Film Institute, a ranking slightly higher than the one AFI gave it ten years earlier.
Network won three of the four acting awards, tying the record of 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire. Along with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Reds and Coming Home, Network is the last film as of 2007 to have received acting nominations in all four categories.
Finch died before the Academy Awards ceremony was held, and as of 2008 is the only performer ever to receive his award posthumously. Straight's performance as the wife of Holden's character featured only five minutes and 40 seconds of screen time, making it the shortest performance to win an Oscar as of 2008.
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