Sidney Aaron Chayefsky (1923-1981) was an American writer, whose work encompassed theatre, television, radio, short stories, novels and film.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, he graduated from college with an accounting degree (and moonlighted as a semi-pro football player) before serving in the Army in World War II (where he won a Purple Heart).
Writing prolifically after the war, he achieved a small breakthrough in 1951 when one of his short stories was adapted into the film As Young as You Feel (which featured an early role for Marilyn Monroe). Then he made his name as a writer of live TV dramas, based on Slice of Life portrayals of everyday America. One of these, Marty, was adapted into a succesful movie, which made him one of the most in-demand writers in Hollywood. He became disillusioned with television, feeling the networks were no longer interested in quality shows, though he still made occasional attempts at selling pilots (The Hospital was an expansion of a pilot script he failed to sell, and the UBS Network was created a few years before Network in a rejected pilot for a series about a network executive) . He also had success on Broadway with the plays Middle of the Night and The Tenth Man.
But his modern reputation is based on the trio of screenplays he wrote in The '60s and The '70s: The Americanization of Emily and The Hospital (both directed by Arthur Hiller) and Network (directed by Sidney Lumet). All three follow a similar template: scathing satires about major American institutions (the military, the health care system, network television), where a deeply-flawed Anti-Hero finds himself grappling with his superiors, who are determined to violate the rules of basic human decency for their own gain. He peppered this with genuine human drama, Black Comedy, and witty, literate dialogue, often stopping the action for charged conversations or revealing, highly-quotable monologues. If that all sounds familiar, it's because Aaron Sorkin has frequently cited Chayefsky as a major influence.
He died of cancer at age 58, but his stature has grown in the decades since, with his films (especially Network) seeming downright-prophetic in the way they presented how the previously-unthinkable can become reality because of the Skewed Priorities of people.
Odd trivia: he attended the same high school (and graduated in the same class) as Stan Lee (they didn't know each other, but Lee was a big fan of Chayefsky).
Films written by Paddy Chayefsky with pages on TV Tropes:
- Marty (1955)—Based on his 1953 Philco Television Playhouse script. Won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and also won a writing Oscar for him.
- Middle of the Night (1959)—Adapted from his 1956 Broadway play (which itself was adapted from his 1954 Philco Television Playhouse presentation).
- The Americanization of Emily (1964)—Adapted from a 1959 novel by William Bradford Huie.
- Paint Your Wagon (1969)—Adapted from the 1951 Lerner & Loewe musical. Chayefsky got fired early in production but still retained final credit.
- The Hospital (1971)—Chayefsky also co-produced the film with Howard Gottfried. Won Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
- Network (1976)—Chayefsky also co-produced the film with Howard Gottfried. Won Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
- Altered States (1980)—Based on Chayefsky's only novel, published in 1978.
Tropes associated with Chayefsky:
- Alan Smithee: Had Creative Differences with Ken Russell on Altered States, and chose to be credited as "Sidney Aaron" for the screenplay.
- Awful Wedded Life: Loveless marriages (Middle of the Night, Network) and bitter divorces (The Americanization of Emily, The Hospital) abound in his work, which makes the characters hectoring the title character in Marty about being a thirtysomething bachelor a bit Hilarious in Hindsight.
- Character Filibuster: His films are loaded with conversations that turn into lengthy monologues where a character states his/her opinion on a topic, or makes a personal confession.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: As the rare non-directing screenwriter to become a household name, his films often have (title) by Paddy Chayefsky listed in the opening credits.
- MayDecember Romance: The focus of Middle of the Night, and a major subplot in both The Hospital and Network. Also, he allegedly had one in Real Life with the star of the Middle of the Night film, Kim Novak.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Sidney Chayefsky got the name Paddy from an incident in his Army years. Assigned to early morning kitchen duty, he tried to get out of it by claiming he had to attend Mass. The officer in charge rolled his eyes at the obviously Jewish Chayefsky trying to pose as Catholic, and kiddingly told him "Sure you do, Paddy", sarcastically giving him a stereotypical Irish name that he ended up using the rest of his life.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: His literate, eloquent, finely-honed scripts forced actors into a very specific, expository delivery style, to be able to handle his words.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: A master of this. His scripts often have several memorable ones, with a character who gets one often turning around to give one to another character.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Odds are you'll be running for a dictionary or a search engine once or twice over the course of a Chayefsky film. He had a love of obscure words that got passed on to his characters.
- Writer on Board: Chayefsky had strong opinions on any number of topics, and his characters are very obviously vehicles to express them.