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Paddy Chayefsky, playwright and screenwriter, was born Sidney Chayefsky on January 29, 1923, in the Bronx, New York to Harry and Gussie (Stuchevsky) Chayefsky. A veteran of the New York City public school system, he attended Dewitt Clinton High School, and then the City College of New York. After graduating with a degree in accounting he joined the United States Army, where he took on the nickname Paddy. He served in the 104th Infantry Division in the European Theatre and was wounded, reportedly by a land mine, near Aachen, Germany.
While recovering from his injuries in the Army Hospital near Cirencester, England, he penned the book and lyrics to a musical called No T.O. for Love, which was first produced by the Special Services Unit in 1945, and toured Army bases all over Europe over the next two years. So successful was this debut that the show was brought to London, where it opened at the Scala Theatre in the West End. During the London production of No T.O. for Love, Chayefsky met Josh Logan, who would later work with him on his television and theatrical projects, as well Garson Kanin, who invited him to collaborate on his documentary of the allied invasion of Europe, The True Glory; these contacts would prove critical to the development of Chayefsky's professional writing career in the years following the War.
Chayefsky did not initially pursue his writing upon returning stateside, but instead apprenticed in his uncle's printing shop, an experience which later formed the basis for his teleplay, A Printer's Measure. It was also during this time that he renewed his association with Garson Kanin, who subsidized the writing of his second play, Put Them All Together (later retitled M is for Mother) which was never produced. In 1949, he married Susan Sackler; their son Dan was born in 1955.
By the early 1950's, Chayefsky had adapted a series of scripts for CBS Radio's Theatre Guild of the Air and written episodes for the CBS television series Danger and Manhunt. In 1953, he met Fred Coe, producer of the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, and wrote his first teleplay for that series, Holiday Song. Chayefsky's scripts for the Philco Playhouse solidified his reputation as a writer; they included The Reluctant Citizen, Marty, The Bachelor Party, The Sixth Year, Middle of the Night, The Mother, The Big Deal, Catch My Boy on Sunday and A Catered Affair. Additionally, Chayefsky developed a working relationship with director Delbert Mann who would later direct three of his feature films. He abandoned television writing in 1955 in favor of screenwriting and Broadway theater. His first film—and the first television play to be successfully remade as a full length motion picture— Marty, won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1955, as well as earning him his first of three Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, and the Grand Prize at Cannes.
A theatrical version of Middle of the Night opened on Broadway in 1956 with Edward G. Robinson and Gena Rowlands. A financial and critical success, it ran for 477 performances and spawned a national tour, paving the way for a film version starring Frederic March and Kim Novak and directed by Delbert Mann in 1959.
Between 1957 and 1959, Chayefsky released three films and a second Broadway show, all to critical acclaim. 1957 saw the release his final collaboration with Delbert Mann, a feature film version of The Bachelor Party, followed the next year by the release of his first original film, The Goddess, starring Kim Stanley. The Goddess earned Chayefsky an Oscar nomination and the Critic's Prize at the Brussels Film Festival. A few months after the release of Middle of the Night, The Tenth Man opened at the Booth Theatre to become Chayefsky's second successful Broadway venture, netting Tony nominations for Best Director (Tyrone Guthrie), Best Scenic Design (David Hays) and Best Play. Chayefsky's third Broadway production, Gideon, opened in 1961 at the Plymouth Theatre with Guthrie once again directing. Another critical success, it garnered a round of Tony nominations for Chayefsky and Guthrie, as well as for Fred Coe (Best Producer) and Frederic March (Best Actor), though once again they failed to take home the honors.
Chayefsky traveled to the Soviet Union with Alfred Kazin and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. as part of a cultural exchange program in 1959, and the trip fueled his antagonism toward Soviet censorship and propaganda which, alongside his interest in his family's Russian roots, found its expression in the play The Passion of Josef D. Unfortunately, his final Broadway production was a flop both with the critics and at the box office, and it closed after a week-long run.
While developing The Passion of Josef D., Chayefsky was hired to adapt a script for William Bradford Huie's novel, The Americanization of Emily, which was released in 1964 starring Julie Andrews and James Garner and directed by Arthur Hiller, who would later team up with Chayefsky on The Hospital. The Americanization of Emily marked the beginning of a period in Chayefsky's career notable for its concentration on adaptations rather than original works. He collaborated for a time on the film The Cincinnati Kid, and shortly thereafter on Ice Station Zebra and Paint Your Wagon, though he was fired from the latter by producer Alan Jay Lerner. Chayefsky continued to work on original material during this time, however, and formed a repertory group with Burgess Meredith and Zero Mostel to stage his play The Latent Heterosexual (1968). The story, which dealt with one man's battle to keep his money out of the hands of the government, may have been at least in part inspired by Chayefsky's own brush with the IRS, but was also written as a vehicle for Mostel, a performer Chayefsky greatly admired. The play opened in Dallas rather than New York and received mixed reviews before moving on to Los Angeles. However, it was the deteriorating relationship between Chayefsky and Mostel that ultimately doomed the production, which would be Chayefsky's last for the stage. His disappointment with the failure of The Latent Heterosexual resulted in a fallow period in the late 1960s.
Chayefsky's next project was a scathing indictment of the medical community: The Hospital, starring George C. Scott and Diana Rigg and directed by Arthur Hiller. Chayefsky won the 1971 Academy Award for his screenplay, which marked his triumphant return to writing. The 1970s also marked a period of political participation for Chayefsky, who became active in a number of Jewish causes, including Writers and Artists for Peace in the Middle East and the Anti-Defamation League. His interest in Jewish affairs was reiterated in his creative work as well, taking the form of what he called a "political melodrama," The Habakkuk Conspiracy. Much to Chayefsky's disappointment, United Artists rejected the script and the film was never produced.
Although Chayefsky had been an early television pioneer, he had turned his back on the medium while it was still in its infancy, decrying the lack of interest the networks demonstrated toward quality programming. Over the course of his career, he had toyed with the idea of lampooning television more than once, but the concept would not come to fruition until his 1976 film Network, which presaged the advent of reality television by twenty years. In addition to a sardonic satire of television, Network dealt with the dehumanization of modern life, a theme he had explored previously with The Latent Heterosexual and The Hospital. The film met with the ire of many television executives and news anchors, and the acclaim of the critics. Nominated for six Academy Awards, it took home four including Best Actress for Faye Dunaway, Best Supporting Actress for Beatrice Straight, a posthumous Best Actor award for Peter Finch, and Chayefsky's third and final award for Best Screenplay.
Chayefsky's final completed project was first published as a novel and subsequently adapted for the screen. Altered States was a significant departure from his previous work: a story with both scientific and metaphysical ideas at its heart, it was a tale of man's search for his primal self through psychotropic drugs and an isolation tank which Chayefsky himself referred to as "an updated Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." The stress Chayefsky suffered while working on the novel led to a heart attack in 1977, but this was not the last misfortune associated with the project. Publication of the novel prompted a lawsuit by one of the many scientific advisors hired to assist Chayefsky with his research. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, but at a great expense to Chayefsky in terms of time as well as money spent on his defense. When work on the film commenced, veteran director Arthur Penn, with whom Chayefsky had worked in his Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse days, was hired, but was later removed from the project and replaced by Ken Russell. The relationship between Russell and Chayefsky soon devolved to such a disastrous degree that Chayefsky had his name removed from the picture and was credited instead as Sidney Aaron. Though the film was ultimately popular with audiences, it was a personal defeat for Chayefsky.
Following Altered States, offers for adaptations and collaborations continued to roll in, including requests for an adaptation of Gorky Park for MGM/UA and Yentl for Barbara Streisand, but Chayefsky refused them. Instead, he turned his energies back to the theater, and began working on a play about accused Communist spy Alger Hiss, but as activity surrounding the 1980 release of Altered States increased, he was forced to put it on hold. Soon, health problems rather than writing took center stage: Chayefsky was diagnosed with cancer. He refused surgery, allegedly claiming he feared retribution by the doctors for his caustic portrayal of them in The Hospital, though he did submit to chemotherapy. He died in New York City on August 1, 1981.
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