”I’m a man without a corporation.” - Paddy Chayefsky
Long before the days of special effects and reality television came to bombard the airwaves, there was a group of writers whose scripts focused on dialogue and drama. In the so-called “golden-age of television”, where black and white reigned supreme, Rod Serling comes to my mind immediately. Next in line would be Paddy Chayefsky.
Sydney “Paddy” Chayefsky was born in the Bronx, New York on January 29, 1923. He attended both CCNY and Fordham University where he specialized in language studies. After serving in the Army from 1943 –1945, Chayefsky started getting work writing scripts for radio. He later made the move to television and his original writing style for such early television favorites such as Danger and Manhunt caught the eye of some executives at NBC. It wasn’t long before he was asked to come aboard and join the fledgling television industry in writing scripts for a “new” kind of drama.
Back then, most of the shows were aired live and among the most popular were the adaptations of plays that had been previously performed. One of the most popular shows of the day was something called The Philco-Goodyear Playhouse that found its niche by not only performing adaptations but by giving young writers a place to air their original works. Chayefsky’s first script, “Holiday Song” aired in 1952 and caught the attention of the critics. Chayefsky, recognizing a way to get his original works airtime, then refused to do any more adaptations of established works. His gamble paid off and in the next year, 1953, NBC aired six of his original scripts. They included:
Marty (starring a young Rod Steiger
The Big Deal
The Bachelor Party
The Sixth Year
Catch My Boy On Sunday
Most of these stories tended to be about the common man and the struggles they encountered on a daily basis. Chayefsky also drew upon his own experiences during his upbringing. The dialogue was crisp and the settings, if you could call them that, were sparse. When he commented on his writing, Chayefsky had this to say, “I focus on the people that I understand, the $75.00 to $125.00 a week kind of guy.”. He soon came to be known as the king of the “kitchen sink” drama.
The most famous of these works was Marty. In the teleplay, Rod Steiger played a lonely butcher who couldn’t find a woman. “Whatever a woman wants in a man, I ain’t got it.”. When he does manage to land a date, his friends try and persuade him that “she’s a dog” and Marty is torn. Finally he comes to the realization that he himself is a dog and opts to abandon his friends for a shot at love. The play ends with Marty arranging a date with a rather plain looking school teacher. The story was later made into a Hollywood film and won the Oscar for Best Picture.
In the years that followed, Chayefsky abandoned the small screen for that of Hollywood. Some of his scripts were flops ala Paint Your Wagon (Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin in a singing western, What were they thinking?). Some such as The Hospital and Network (don’t know about this film, go read Tlachtga’s w/u in the node, it’s excellent!) are all time classics for which Mr. Chayefsky won additional Oscars. This snippet of dialogue from Network has become an American classic.
Chayefsky had one more run-in with Hollywood before his death in 1981. He had authored a novel and screenplay by the name of Altered States. He was so pissed at the way that director Ken Russel butchered the script that he refused to take any credit.