|Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky won four Academy Awards|
Sidney (Paddy) Chayefsky
Class of 1943
Whether he was depicting a disillusioned television anchor howling his rage to an audience of millions in “Network,” or an achingly lonely Bronx butcher with a big heart in “Marty,” writer Paddy Chayefsky gave voice to some of the most memorable characters in modern American drama. He was a major force in 1950s television, one of the medium’s leading playwrights during its so-called “golden age.” When he wrote for the big screen, he found equal success, becoming one of only two writers to have won solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay three times. (Woody Allen is the other.) In 1984, he was part of the inaugural group of inductees into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Television Hall of Fame. Chayefsky also wrote for the Broadway stage but his plays, while well received, were not long-running. He was nominated for Tony Awards for “The Tenth Man” and “Gideon.” The College awarded him a Townsend Harris Medal in 1957.
|“Network,” Chayefsky’s 1977 send-up on the corruption of network news|
His work ranged from “slice of life” television plays like “Marty” in 1953, later made in a 1955 movie that won an Oscar as the year’s Best Picture, and got Chayefsky his own Oscar for Best Screenplay, to big-screen work like “Hospital,” a dark satire of medical institutions that brought him a second Oscar in 1971, and “Network” in 1976, his scorching sendup of how the lust for ratings corrupted television newscasts. “Network” not only earned Chayefsky his third Oscar, but included a bit of dialog that is ranked at Number 19 among the American Film Institute’s most memorable movie lines of the past 100 years. It is, of course, the line roared by the fictional news anchor Howard Beale (actor Peter Finch) when he sees what TV has become: “I want you to go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell: 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!’” The movie “Marty” will also be remembered for its dialog, including an exchange between Marty and his friend Angie that stirs the memories for any Bronxite who came of age in the 1950s:
|Trying to figure it out in “Marty.”|
Angie: "So whaddaya feel like doing tonight?" Marty: "I don't know, Ang'. Wadda you feel like doing?"
Chayefsky was born in the Bronx to Russian-Jewish immigrants on Jan. 29, 1923. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School and graduated from the College with a bachelor of science degree. He went into the Army and was awarded a Purple Heart when he was wounded while serving with the 104th Infantry Division near Aachen, Germany, during World War II. His real name was Sidney Aaron Chayefsky. While in the Army, he reportedly tried to duck K.P. duty by telling the officer in charge that he had to attend mass. The officer started calling him “Paddy” and the name stuck.
After the war, Chayefsky began turning out short stories and radio scripts. He launched his television career in the early 1950s, writing episodes of “Danger” and “Manhunt,” when he was noticed by Fred Coe, the producer of NBC's live anthology drama, “The Philco-Goodyear Playhouse.” In 1953, Coe produced six of Chayefsky's scripts. One of them was “Marty,” with Rod Steiger in the role that brought Ernest Borgnine an Oscar in the movie version. With that, Chayefsky became one of television's best-known writers, part of a group that included Tad Mosel, Reginald Rose and Rod Serling, but he stood alone in fashioning touching, intimate scripts that seemed carved out of real life. Often influenced by his Bronx background, he created characters who were second-generation Americans grappling with personal problems and struggling to express their feelings.
“I have sometimes been accused of writing little plays about little people,” he said in 1956. “What my critics pretend to mean, I think, is that my plays are literal and earthbound, and that my characters never achieve any stature beyond immediate recognition.”
Chayefsky died of cancer on Aug. 1, 1981. He was 58.