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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
TELEVISION PLAYS (as episodes of anthology series,
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
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, 1971; Network, 1976; Altered
Meanest Man in the World, Tommy, Over 21, 1951-52, for Theater
Guild of the Air series.
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 Heterosexual, 1967.
Films" They're Dedicated Insanity." Films and Filming. (London),
States (novel). New York: Harper and Row, 1978.
John. The Craft of the Screenwriter. New York: Simon and
John M. Paddy Chayefsky. Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne, 1976.
Shaun. Mad as Hell: The Life and Work of Paddy Chayefsky.
New York: Random House, 1994.
Sam. "Paddy Chayefsky." Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Vol. 44. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986.
S. "P.C. Speaks Out." Saturday Review (New York), 13 November
David and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers. Boston,
Massachusetts: Little, Brown, 1992.
Frank. Live Television: the Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1990.
Drama; Coe, Fred; Golden
Age of Television; Robinson,