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Paddy Chayefsky

Paddy Chayefsky

Born Sidney Aaron Chayefsky on Jan. 29, 1923 in the Bronx, NY and raised by Ukrainian Jewish parents, Harry and Gussie, Chayefsky attended DeWitt Clinton High School, graduating in 1939 and moving on to City College of New York. He enlisted in the U.S. army during World War I, serving in the 104th Infantry Division where he earned his nickname Paddy and a purple heart for being wounded by a landmine near Aachen, Germany. While recovering, Chayefsky wrote the musical comedy "No T.O. for Love," which was produced by the Special Services Unit in 1945 and toured European army bases for the next two years. It later opened in London's famed West End, marking the official start of his theatrical career. But upon relocation to the United States, Chayefsky went to work at his uncle's print shop while struggling to stage theatrical productions, though he did manage to sell a couple of plays that went unproduced. He also contributed to writing the commentary on the award-winning documentary "The True Glory" (1945), but did not receive credit for his work.In the late 1940s, Chayefsky relocated to Los Angeles where he met and married Susan Sackler, but failed to find any work so he moved back to New York. He soon started writing short stories, radio scripts for "Theatre Guild of the Air," and gags for Robert Q. Lewis, leading to his first produced feature with "As Young as You Feel" (1951), starring Monty Woolley, Thelma Ritter and a then unknown starlet named Marilyn Monroe. In 1952, Chayefsky segued to television with episodes of the anthology series "Danger" (CBS, 1950-55) and "The Philco Television Playhouse" (NBC, 1948-1955), but was propelled into an overnight start for the television play "Marty" (1953), which aired live on NBC's "Goodyear TV Playhouse." A poignant drama, "Marty" starred Rod Steiger as a hard-working butcher from the Bronx who pines for love, but finds himself in the company of a shy schoolteacher (Nancy Marchand). From there, Chayefsky wrote some of television's greatest dramas of the Golden Age, including "The Bachelor Party" (NBC, 1953), "The Sixth Year" (NBC, 1953), "Middle of the Night" (NBC, 1954) and "The Catered Affair" (NBC, 1955).Though he made the jump to features in 1951 with "As Young as You Feel," Chayefsky made a much more significant impact with his heartwarming adaptation of "Marty" (1955), transforming Ernest Borgnine from an uninteresting heavy to the lonely Bronx butcher who, against all odds, finds true love. The Oscar-winning Best Picture was an overwhelming critical and commercial success, earning additional Academy Awards for Chayefsky, Borgnine and director Delbert Mann, as well as immortalizing the line "I don't know. What do you want to do tonight, Marty?" and setting a trend for low-budgeted, prosaic films. Chayefsky took his unerring ear for credible conversation to the stage, conquering Broadway with "Middle of the Night" (1956), based on his teleplay from 1954. The examination of a May-December romance starred Edward G. Robinson - his first Broadway performance in 25 years - opposite a young Gena Rowlands in parts that Fredric March and Kim Novak would assume for the 1959 feature directed by Mann. Mann also directed "The Bachelor Party" (1957), another adaptation of Chayefsky teleplay which attempted to capitalize on the success of "Marty." A finely acted film featuring the writer's matter-of-fact dialogue, Mann's straightforward approach failed to elevate "The Bachelor Party" above the ordinary.Chayefsky followed up with writing the script for "The Goddess" (1958), a showbiz drama about a poor young woman (Kim Stanley) who aspires to be a star in a story very reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe's rise to stardom. The film earned him a second Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. After writing the stage plays "The Tenth Man" (1960) and "Gideon" (1961), he wrote "The Americanization of Emily" (1964), a darkly comic drama about a cowardly naval officer (James Garner) who avoids battle by hiding out in London where he falls for a war widow (Julie Andrews), only to become a hero himself after leading the charge on D-Day. Back to the stage, he wrote "The Latent Heterosexual" (1967) and adapted the musical comedy "Paint Your Wagon" (1969) for the screen, which starred Lee Marvin as a grizzled prospector, Clint Eastwood as his sheepish partner, and Jean Seberg as a rebellious Mormon woman purchased by Marvin at auction. All three stars embarrassed themselves in trying to sing various musical numbers, leading critics to savage the film upon its release, though time would look upon it more kindly.Chayefsky reinvented himself in the 1970s as one of the most bitingly satirical and prophetic writers in the history of feature films - a far cry from his kitchen sink realism of the previous two decades. First he savagely skewered the medical industry with "The Hospital" (1971), a seething, rage-filled satire starring George C. Scott as an eminent but suicidal surgeon who finds himself losing control of his life, hospital and own desire to heal while patients start to mysteriously die around him. Hailed by some critics and misunderstood by others, "The Hospital" featured some of Chayefsky's finest dialogue - including Scott's five-minute monologue on impotence - and earned him his second Oscar for Best Screenplay. He followed up with what became his defining film, "Network" (1976), an outrageous skewering of the television culture starring William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Peter Finch as the mad prophet of the airwaves Howard Beale, a TV anchor man whose on-air descent into madness turn him into a ratings hit. Featuring one of cinema's most famous lines - "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" - "Network" boasted one brilliant performance after another and delivered Chayefsky his third Academy Award for Best Screenplay, making him the first scribe to win the Oscar as sole writer.After winning the Oscar for "Network," Chayefsky embarked on his next film, "Altered States" (1980), which the writer adapted from his novel of the same name. After sparring with original director Arthur Penn, who quit before production began, Chayefsky disowned replacement director Ken Russell's final cut, a pretty package of state-of-the-art special effects but ultimately a silly sci-fi affair about an abnormal psychology professor who uses drugs and sensory deprivation to prove his theory that other states of consciousness are real, leading to radical psychological and even physical changes. Chayefsky's extreme unhappiness with the discordant result prompted him to opt for a pseudonymous credit, taking the name Sidney Aaron instead of his own. The fact that Russell refused to respect the integrity of his script came as quite a shock to a man who had enjoyed as much autonomy as any writer had ever enjoyed in Hollywood. It would be the last film he would ever make. Chayefsky died only nine months after the release of "Altered States," succumbing to cancer on Aug. 1, 1981. He was 58.By Shawn Dwyer