Paddy Chayefsky

Sidney Aaron Chayefski (January 29, 1923August 1, 1981) known as Paddy Chayefsky was an acclaimed dramatist who transitioned from the golden age of American live television in the 1950s to a successful career as a playwright and screenwriter.


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.

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.

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 led to a film two years later, starring Ernest Borgnine in the lead role. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Chayefsky's work on that and other teleplays inspired comparisons with Arthur Miller, and he received an Academy Award for his work on the screenplay.

He focused on screenplays after the success with Marty, with films such as The Goddess, which starred Kim Stanley (for which he received an Oscar nomination) and The Bachelor Party. In the 1960s his writing 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 went on to win two more Oscars for his work on 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 also received Golden Globe awards. Chayefsky also received an Academy Award for Network in the "Best Original Screenplay" category.

He is known for his comments during the 1978 Oscar telecast after Vanessa Redgrave made a controversial speech denouncing the "Zionist hoodlums" who had threatened her (in reference to threats from the Jewish Defense League, identified by the FBI as a right-wing terrorist group), while accepting her award for Best Supporting Actress in Julia. Two hours later, after no one had commented on her speech, while presenting an award Chayefsky stated his distaste for Redgrave's using the award event to make a political point. He said, "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. A 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.


His fiction includes the novel Altered States (HarperCollins, 1978), for which he spent two years in Boston doing research. His last screenplay was based on this book. In the film he is credited under his real first and middle name, Sidney Aaron, because of disputes with director Ken Russell.


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