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Paddy Chayefsky 1923-1981

Country : New York City, New York
Profession : Playwright, Screenwriter
Date of birth : 1923-01-29
Date of death : 1981-08-01
Cause of Death : Cancer

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Sidney Aaron Chayefski (January 29, 1923August 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. He won Academy Awards for his scripts for the films Marty (1955), The Hospital (1971), and Network (1976).


Early life and career

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. 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. 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 1951-52, 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, 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. 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; it was a 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" and about having sat and "praying somebody would say something" and commented only because no one did.


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.

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