|Born||January 29, 1923
Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||1 August 1981 (aged 58)
New York City, New York
|Years active||1944 - 1980|
|Spouse(s)||Susan Sackler, 1949-1981|
Sidney Aaron Chayefski (January 29, 1923 – August 1, 1981), known as Paddy Chayefsky, was a distinguished American playwright and novelist who made a transition from the golden age of American live television in the 1950s to a successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter. He is the only person to have won three solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay.
He was considered one of the most renowned dramatists to emerge from the "golden age" of American television. His intimate, realistic scripts helped shape the naturalistic style of television drama in the 1950s. After leaving television, Chayefsky continued to succeed as a playwright and novelist. He won his greatest acclaim as a Hollywood screenwriter, receiving Academy Awards for three scripts, including Marty (1955), The Hospital (1971) and Network (1976). Marty was based on his own television drama about the love affair between two homely people. Network was his scathing satire of the television industry and The Hospital was considered dark and satiric. Film historian David Thomson called it "daring, uninhibited, and prophetic. No one else would have dreamed of doing it."
Chayefsky's early stories were notable for their dialogue, their depiction of second-generation Americans, and their infusions of sentiment and humor. They frequently drew on the author's upbringing in the Bronx. The protagonists were generally middle-class tradesmen struggling with personal problems: loneliness, pressures to conform, blindness to their own emotions.
Born in the Bronx, New York in 1923 to Ukrainian Jewish parents, Harry and Gussie Stuchevsky Chayefsky. Chayefsky attended DeWitt Clinton High School, and then the City College of New York. While there, he played for the semi-pro football team Kingsbridge Trojans. He graduated with a degree in accounting, and then studied languages at Fordham University. He joined the U.S. Army during World War II, where he received both a Purple Heart and the nickname Paddy. The nickname happened spontaneously when Chayefsky was awakened at 5am 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 Theatre, he was near Aachen, Germany when he was wounded, reportedly by a land mine. While 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.
After 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. It attracted producers Mike Gordon and Jerry Bressler gave him a junior writer's contract. He wrote a treatment called The Great American Hoax, which was sold to Good Housekeeping but never published.
He moved to Hollywood, and while there he met his future wife Susan Sackler and they wed in February of 1949. He would not find employment here, so he moved back to 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. Chayefsky would later recall "I sold some plays to men who had an uncanny ability not to raise money." In 1951-52, Chayefsky did several adaptations for radio's Theater Guild on the Air: The Meanest Man in the World (with James Stewart), Cavalcade of America, Tommy (with Van Heflin and Ruth Gordon) and Over 21 (with Wally Cox).
He wrote The Man Who Made the Mountain Shake, which caught the attention of Elia Kazan. His wife, Molly, helped Chayefsky with revisions. It was retitled Fifth From Garibaldi, but it was never produced. He then wrote for TV shows Danger, The Gulf Playhouse , and Manhunt and submitted the story for the movie As Young as You Feel.
Fred Coe gave him his big break. He was the producer for The Philco Television Playhouse and he had seen the episodes of Danger and Manhunt and enlisted Chayefsky to adapt the story It Happened on the Brooklyn Subway. The story is about a photographer on a New York subway train whose faith in God is restored when he reunites a concentration camp survivor with his long-lost wife. Chayefsky did not have enough material for a half-hour, left alone a full one. His first story that aired began with a 1949 adaptation of Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? for producer Fred Coe's The Philco Television Playhouse
He wanted to use his Jewish heritage and he had always wanted to write a script with a synagogue as backdrop, and he created Holiday Song and it starred Joseph Buloff. It aired in 1952 to critical acclaim, and later in 1954. He submitted more work to Philco, and it was original and based on his experiences. They included but were not limited to Printer's Measure, The Bachelor Party, and The Big Deal.
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.
1953 saw the premiere of Marty on The Philco Television Playhouse starring Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand. It follows a homely butcher and he meets a not-so-attractive woman Clara, and how they realize they both suffer from the same inner torment. It was not rebroadcast until it was put on the movie screen, in 1955 with Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair. It earned Academy Awards for best picture, best director (Delbert Mann), and best actor (Borgnine). Chayefsky won his first best screenplay Oscar for the film. 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."
Gore Vidal would adapt his teleplay The Catered Affair into a film of the same name. Chayefsky would write the screenplay to The Bachelor Party. The latter was directed by Mann and the story follows people questioning the idea of marriage, of commitment to one person, of going to the same, dull job, day after day, year after year, to support a family.
His next film, The Goddess, loosely based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. It was directed John Cromwell and starred Kim Stanley as Emily Ann Faulkner, who is a small town girl who becomes the movies' blonde bombshell. She achieves fame and she becomes emotionally disturbed and a problem to everyone: her producer, her director, and especially her husband (played by Lloyd Bridges).
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 fifteen months later and was filmed by Columbia Pictures in 1959.
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.
He then adapted the Lerner and Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon to big screen in 1969. Musical comedy was not Chayefsky's strong point and wrote it sixty six minutes long, which was considered too long. His adaption was rewritten immensely, and he never worked on another musical adaption. Even with Clint Eastwood, Jean Seberg, and Lee Marvin, the movie would not do well at the box office.
His next film, The Hospital (1971) starred George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, and Barnard Hughes.It is a dark comedy about an terribly run big-city hospital where a maniac is killing promiscuous interns. The movie was both commercially and critically successful, earning Chayefsky another Oscar for screenwriting.
His next movie Network (1976) starred Peter Finch as Howard Beale, an aging network anchorman who goes crazy on the air one night and has inspired revelations about saving mankind from television by using television. It also stars Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and William Holden. This would earn Chayefsky his third Oscar for screenwriting.
His last film Altered States (1980) was based on his novel satirizing the scientific research community and its pretensions. During production, he and director Ken Russell had alot of disagreements, as Russell wanted the movie to be more of a symbol-heavy, special-effects laden film than a satire. Chayefsky withdrew his name from the credits and replaced it with Sidney Aaron.
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. Recently The Great American Hoax was shown on the FX channel after Fox restored some The 20th Century Fox Hour episodes and broadcast them on TV under the title Fox Hour of Stars.
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.
Paddy Chayefsky's papers are at the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Chayefsky gained the reputation as the pack leader of kitchen sink realism on television. His protagonists were often middle-class tradesmen struggling with personal problems, such as loneliness, conformity pressures, and blindness to their own emotions. Although they were televised as live broadcasts, the stories fit the medium well, as they usually took place in cramped interior settings and were developed mostly by dialogue, not action.
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, Borgnine won for Best Actor, 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. Paint Your Wagon director, Joshua Logan said he "found Chayefsky to be close to a genius, but too close to stubborn."
He won two more Oscars, the first for The Hospital (1971) which starred George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. David Thomson describes it as a "lethally funny account of American social benevolence collapsing in its own bureaucratic chaos. Another review calls it "a scathing indictment of the medical community." In 1980, after he was diagnosed with cancer, he refused surgery, claiming that he "feared retribution by the doctors" for his caustic portrayal of them in the film. He died the following year.
The film was followed by 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. The film expectedly met with the ire of many television executives and news anchors, but it won the acclaim of most critics. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning four, including Best Actress for Faye Dunaway. Beatrice Straight won for Best Supporting Actress and it became Chayefsky's third and final award for Best Screenplay.
Although Chayefsky was an early pioneer of the television medium, he eventually turned his back on it while it was still in its infancy, "decrying the lack of interest the networks demonstrated toward quality programming." As a result, during the course of his career, he constantly toyed with the idea of lampooning the television industry, which he succeeded in doing with Network. The film is said to have "presaged the advent of reality television by twenty years" and was a "sardonic satire" of the television industry, dealing with the "dehumanization of modern life."
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. It was the story of a man's search for his primal self through psychotropic drugs and an isolation tank. Chayefsky suffered greatly from stress while working on the novel, and this resulted in his having a heart attack in 1977. Subsequent to that misfortune, he was sued by one of the numerous scientific advisors hired to help him with research.
In the film Chayefsky is credited under his real first and middle name, Sidney Aaron, because of disputes with director Ken Russell.
Television plays (as episodes of anthology series, selection)