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January 29: Paddy Chayefsky

January 29, 2016

Sidney “Paddy” Chayefsky, the only solo writer to have won three Academy Awards for Best Screenplay — for Marty (1955), The Hospital (1971), and Network (1976) — was born in the Bronx on this date in 1923. Chayefsky was wounded during World War II and became a full-time short story and radio writer at the end of the 1940s. Marty, which began as a teleplay in 1953, starred Ernest Borgnine as a lonely, overweight butcher who is redeemed by love, a theme to which Chayefsky was consistently drawn. Other actors who became well-known for their roles in Chayefsky’s works were George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, Faye Dunaway, and Peter Finch. In 1956, Chayefsky made his Broadway debut with Middle of the Night, starring Edward G. Robinson and Gena Rowlands. His first novel, Altered States, was published in 1979. Chayefsky suggested that television “may be the basic theater of our century,” and identified “characters caught in the decline of their society” as “the essence of almost everything that I write.” He died of cancer at 58. To see Peter Finch making Chayefsky’s “I’m mad as hell” speech in Network, look below.

“Television is democracy at its ugliest.” —Paddy Chayefsky