|Sydney "Paddy" Chayefsky was one of the most renown 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 succeeded as a playwright and novelist. He won greatest acclaim as a Hollywood screenwriter, receiving Academy Awards for three scripts, including Marty (1955), based on his own |
television drama, and Network (1976), his scathing satire of the television industry.
Chayefsky began his television career writing episodes for Danger and Manhunt in the early 1950s. His scripts caught the attention of Fred Coe, the dynamic producer of NBC's live anthology drama, the Philco-Goodyear Playhouse. Chayefsky's first script for Coe, Holiday Song, won immediate critical acclaim when it aired in 1952. Subsequently, Chayefsky bucked the trend of the anthology writers by insisting that he would write only original dramas, not adaptations. The result was a banner year in 1953. Coe produced six Chayefsky scripts, including Printer's Measure and The Reluctant Citizen. Chayefsky became one of television's best-known writers, along with such dramatists as Tad Mosel, Reginald Rose, and Rod Serling.
Chayefsky's 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. The technical limitations of live broadcast suited these dramas. The stories took place in cramped interior settings and were advanced by dialogue, not action. Chayefsky said that he focused on "the people I understand; the $75 to $125 a week kind"; this subject matter struck a sympathetic chord with the mainly urban, middle-class audiences of the time.
Marty, a typical Chayefsky teleplay and one of the most acclaimed of all the live anthology dramas, aired in 1953. Rod Steiger played the lonely butcher who felt that whatever women wanted in a man, "I ain't got it." When Marty finally met a woman, his friends cruelly labeled her "a dog." Marty finally decided that he was a dog himself and had to seize his chance for love. The play ended happily, with Marty arranging a date. Critics compared Marty and other Chayefsky teleplays to the realistic dramas of Arthur Miller and Clifford Odets. In Chayefsky's plays, however, positive endings and celebrations of love tended to emerge from the naturalistic framework. The Chayefsky plays also steered clear of social issues, like most of the anthology dramas.
After Marty enjoyed phenomenal success as a Hollywood film, Chayefsky left television in 1956. His exit narrowly preceded the demise of the live dramas, as sponsors began to prefer pre-recorded shows. Even while the live dramas were declining, however, Chayefsky's teleplays found new life. Simon and Schuster published a volume of Chayefsky's television plays. And three of them, in addition to Marty, became Hollywood films: The Bachelor Party (1957) and Middle of the Night (1959), adapted by Chayefsky, and The Catered Affair (1957), adapted by Gore Vidal.
In the 1960s, Chayefsky abandoned the intimate, personal dramas on which he had built his reputation. His subsequent work was often dark and satiric, like the Academy-Award winning film, The Hospital (1971). Network, Chayefsky's send-up of television, marked the apex of his satiric mode. He depicted an institution that had sold its soul for ratings and become "a goddamned amusement park," in the words of news anchor Howard Beale, the movie's main character. Before Chayefsky's death in 1981, he wrote one more screenplay, Altered States (1980), based on his own novel. He refused a script credit, however, due to disagreements with the film's director, Ken Russell.
Chayefsky wrote only one television script after 1956, an adaptation of his 1961 play Gideon. His reputation as a television dramatist rests on the eleven scripts he completed for the Philco-Goodyear Playhouse. His influence on the live anthologies was considerable, but he is just as notable for the career he forged after television.
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Center for Film
and Theater Research
PADDY CHAYEFSKY (Sidney Chayefsky). Born in Bronx, New York, U.S.A., 29
January 1923. City College of New York, B.S.S., 1943; studied languages, Fordham University, New York. Married Susan Sackler, 1949; one son. Served in U.S.
Army 1943-45. Dramatist from 1944;
printer's apprentice, Regal Press (uncle's print shop), New York City, 6 months 1945; wrote short stories, radio scripts full-time,
late 1940s; gag writer for Robert Q. Lewis, late 1940s; with Garson Kanin, wrote documentary, The True Glory, his first
film, uncredited, 1945; first screenplay
credit for As Young As You Feel, 1951; adapted plays for Theatre Guild of the Air, 1952-53; first television script, Holiday
Song, 1952; Marty, 1953; screenplay,
Marty, 1955, Oscar for Best Screenplay
and Best Picture, 1955; president, Sudan Productions, 1956; president, Carnegie Productions from 1957; president S.P.D. Productions from 1959; president, Sidney Productions from 1967; president of
Simcha Productions, from 1971; last screenplay, Altered States, credited
under nom de plume Aaron Sydney, 1980. Member: New Dramatists' Committee,
1952-53; Writers guild of America; Screen Writers Guild; American Guild of Variety Artists; American Guild of Authors and Composers; Screen Actors Guild; Council, Dramatists Guild, from 1962. Recipient: Purple Heart, 1945; private fellowship from Garson Kanin, 1948; Sylvania Television Award, 1953; Screen Writers Guild Award, 1954 and 1971; Academy Award, 1955, 1971, and 1976; Palm d'Or, Cannes Film Festival, 1955; Look Magazine Award,
1956; New York Film Critics Award 1956, 1971 and 1976; Venice Film Festival
Award, 1958; Edinborough Film Festival Awards, 1958; Critics' Prize, Brussels
Film Festival, 1958; British Academy
Award, 1976. Died in New York City,
1 August 1981.
1951-60 Goodyear Playhouse
1952-54 Philco Television Playhouse
1952 Holiday Song
1952 The Reluctant Citizen
1953 Printer's Measure
1953 The Big Deal
1953 The Bachelor Party
1953 The Sixth Year
1953 Catch My Boy On Sunday
1954 The Mother
1954 Middle of the Night
1955 The Catered Affair
1956 The Great American Hoax
The True Glory (uncredited, with Garson Kanin), 1945; As Young As You Feel,
with Lamar Trotti, 1951; Marty, 1955;
The Catered Affair, 1956; The Bachelor Party, 1957; The Goddess, 1958; Middle
of the Night, 1959; The Americanization
of Emily, 1964; Paint Your Wagon (with
Alan Jay Lerner), 1969; The Hospital, 1
971; Network, 1976; Altered States, 1980.
RADIO PLAYS (adapter)
The Meanest Man in the World, Tommy, Over 21, 1951-52, for Theater Guild of
the Air series.
No T.O. for Love, 1944; Fifth from
Garibaldi, ca. 1944; Middle of the Night, 1956; The Tenth Man, 1959; Gideon,
1961; The Passion of Josef D (also
director), 1964; The Latent Hetero-
"Art Films" They're Dedicated Insanity." Films and Filming. (London), May 1958.
Altered States (novel). New York: Harper
and Row, 1978.