Paddy Chayefsky

Broadway playwright Paddy Chayefsky picked up two Academy Awards for his films The Hospital and Network.


Born in 1923 in New York, Paddy Chayefsky started working in radio and television after serving in World War II. His teleplay Marty became a 1955 film and won him his first Academy Award. Chayefsky also wrote several plays for Broadway, including The Tenth Man. In the 1970s, he picked up two more Academy Awards for The Hospital and Network. He died in 1981.

Early Years

Born on January 29, 1923, and raised in the Bronx, New York, Sidney Aaron Chayefsky was the son of Jewish-Russian immigrants. Both his religion and his lower-middle-class background informed and influenced his later works. As a young man, Chayefsky developed an interest in writing. He learned how to pen plays by studying the works of others, and even copied out the entire text of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour by hand. Chayefsky attended DeWitt Clinton High School and then studied at the City College of New York.

After graduating from college in 1943, Chayefsky joined the U. S. Army. He served in an infantry division in Germany, where he earned the nickname "Paddy" from his fellow soldiers after he kept asking to be excused to attend mass. This was an effort to avoid kitchen duty and not to convert to another faith, but his comrades joked that he must have been Irish for going to services so much.

Chayefsky was injured in the war after stepping on a landmine. While recuperating in an English hospital, he wrote a military musical called No T.O. for Love. Chayefsky returned to New York after the war and went to work at an uncle's print shop. In his own time, he continued writing, developing scripts and stories for radio and the emerging medium of television.

Television, Films and Theater

Chayefsky first broke into TV by writing scripts for two crime dramas, Danger and Manhunt. Before long, he was a part of what some would later refer to as "The Golden Age of Television," penning engaging dramas like 1953's Marty, which aired on Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. He soon adapted the teleplay into a film, scoring his first Academy Award for the screenplay. The movie version starred Ernest Borgnine as the lonely, overweight butcher who falls for a schoolteacher.

Writing for the theater, Chayefsky made his Broadway debut in 1956 with Middle of the Night. The play was billed as a love story and featured actors Edward Robinson and Gena Rowlands. Chayefsky's next effort, The Tenth Man, was a comedy set in an Orthodox synagogue. It ran for nearly two years in New York before going out on a successful tour. His 1961 play Gideon was also a Broadway hit and later adapted into a 1971 TV movie starring Peter Ustinov and José Ferrer.  It was criticism of 1964's The Passion of Josef D., an experimental production about Communist leader Joseph Stalin and the Russian Revolution, that drove Chayefsky away from the theater. The show lasted less than two weeks before it closed, and he vowed to never write for the Broadway stage again.

Oscars for 'The Hospital' and 'Network

As television tastes changed, Chayefsky turned to films. He adapted the William Bradford Huie novel The Americanization of Emily into a screenplay. The wartime romantic comedy, released in 1964 and starring Julie Andrews and James Garner, failed to win over critics and moviegoers alike. Trying to revive a fading genre, Chayefsky adapted the musical Paint Your Wagon for the big screen, though he eventually quit the project, citing that the script was radically altered by Alan Jay Lerner. The 1969 western starred Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood.

As the next decade began, Chayefsky enjoyed a new wave of success. He wrote the screenplay for The Hospital (1971), a project starring George C. Scott and Diana Rigg which offered a satirical look at the medical establishment and earned the screenwriter another Oscar. Chayefsky took another institution to task in 1976's Network, exploring the ugly underbelly of television. The movie features one of cinema's most famous scenes when a news anchor (Peter Finch) has a breakdown on air. The journalist instructs his viewers to open their windows and shout "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." His command began a popular catchphrase.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, the film netted four Academy Awards, including one for Chayefsky's screenplay. Some thought that Chayefsky had gone over the deep end with Network, but he insisted that it was a realistic portrayal of the news media, stating, "It's the world that's gone nuts, not me. It's the world that's turned into a satire."

Final Years

Chayefsky tackled a new literary form later in his life, publishing his first novel, Altered States, in 1979. He also created a movie adaptation of the science-fiction book but had trouble with the production, which was ultimately released in 1980 and starred William Hurt. The film went through two directors—first Sidney Lumet and then Ken Russell—and Chayefsky clashed with both of them. While Russell insisted that the final film version remained true to Chayefsky's script, the famous playwright had his name removed from the credits; he was listed under the pseudonym "Sidney Aaron."

Disappointed, Chayefsky returned to playwriting. He was reportedly at work on a new play about the Alger Hiss trial but was unable to finish it. On August 1, 1981, Chayefsky died of cancer in a New York City hospital. Many famous figures from the theatrical, cinematic and literary worlds turned out for his memorial service, including David Mamet, Sidney Lumet and Bob Fosse. Chayefsky was remembered for his distinctive dialogue style, sharp satirical wit and unwavering support of love as tool for redemption.

Chayefsky had one son, Daniel, from his marriage to Susan Sackler. The couple married in 1945 and remained together until Paddy's death.

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