< The Angry Man


Friday, October 27, 2006

BROOKE GLADSTONE: In 1976, Barbara Walters' one million dollar contract was paid half by ABC News and half by the network's entertainment division. When the movie Network was released, she was a bit defensive, telling TV critic Tom Shales that there would never be, quote, "That kind of show biz approach to the news the film depicted." In Network, an anchorman erupts and calls on viewers to join him in an iconic primal scream -- to wit, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more!" And in that, he reflected his creator, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. From New York, WNYC's Sara Fishko offers this profile. [FILM CLIP]

MAN: We're live in eight, seven, six, five - [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: A few weeks ago, on the season premier of Aaron Sorkin's TV show Studio 60, one of the show's characters went berserk live on the air. [FILM CLIP]

HOWARD BEALE: Change the channel! Turn off your TVs! Do it right now. Go ahead. [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: Doing a kind of insane truth-telling about television and society. [FILM CLIP]

HOWARD BEALE: We're all being lobotomized by this country's most influential industry. [FILM CLIP/SOUND UP AND UNDER]

SARA FISHKO: The star was frankly inspired by Howard Beale, the crazed anchorman of the film Network, the character created by screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky decades ago. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

MAN: In a screen reminiscent of Paddy Chayefsky's classic film Network's live broadcast -

WOMAN: He was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it anymore.

SARA FISHKO: Network, now 30 years old, has come back in a big way this year, as has the memory of the Bronx-born writer who brought it to the screen. Chayefsky's career was meteoric and really very unwriterlike. [FILM CLIP - MARTY]

MAN: What do you feel like doin' tonight?

MAN: I don't know, Ange. What do you feel like doin'? [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: He had come into the public consciousness for the first time with the film Marty, whose two-guys-in-a-bar dialog had quickly entered the language. [FILM CLIP -- MARTY]

MAN: I say to you what do you feel like doin' tonight and you say back to me, I don't know, what do you feel like doin' tonight? Then we wind up sittin' around your house with a couple of cans of beer watching The Hit Parade on television. [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: The story of a lonely butcher and a timid schoolteacher who find love, it had originally been a live TV drama with Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand in 1953, and it became a phenomenon.

SHAUN CONSIDINE: It was instantaneous. Overnight. Everybody connected with it. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

SARA FISHKO: Shaun Considine's 1994 biography of Chayefsky, Mad as Hell, has been reprinted this year. He says the dialog in Marty is what captivated audiences -- and actors, too. Nancy Marchand said the words just fell off your tongue, and the program really did explode onto the screen in its own quiet way that night in 1953.

SHAUN CONSIDINE: The next day, the actors were walking in the street, and everybody had seen it, or seen Rod Steiger, and said -- they were yelling out the windows, hey, Marty!

SARA FISHKO: Chayefsky, born Sidney Chayefsky and nicknamed Paddy in the Army, had started out wanting to be a playwright, but he'd gone to Hollywood when one of his magazine stories was bought by a studio. Out there, in the late '40s, it was not the best time for writers.

SHAUN CONSIDINE: They were the lowest on the totem pole. As Ben Hecht said, they were a cross between a doormat and a groundhog.

SARA FISHKO: And when the studio turned Paddy's script over to one writer after another for revisions, Chayefsky walked out.

SHAUN CONSIDINE: He was not happy with that situation. He decided that if he ever went back to Hollywood, he would have total control.

SARA FISHKO: Marty was his chance. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] It was in his contract that only he could do the rewrites this time, and as far as anyone knew, it was the first such arrangement. The movie starred Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair, and it sold out night after night in New York. It was cheered at the Cannes Film Festival, and it won Chayefsky his first screenwriting Oscar. He was already the writer as major star. [FILM CLIP]

KIM STANLEY: You know what my last picture, Stardust Girl, did in New York City opening week? [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: He fought for creative control again, and won, in The Goddess, his 1958 movie about the rise of a Hollywood screen idol, played by Kim Stanley, and inspired by the life of Marilyn Monroe. [FILM CLIP]

KIM STANLEY: All you know - to just run off on me! [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: Again, the dialog dominated. [FILM CLIP]

KIM STANLEY: I hate you so much, I don't know how to tell you how much I hate you. You can just get out of my house! Just get out! [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: In fact, at that point, the writer of the movie, Chayefsky, was a much bigger star than the actress, Kim Stanley. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] They even promoted the film with a picture of our hero toiling at his typewriter. Still, with all his success in movies, his dream was to be writing great plays. He wrote them, and a few were produced in New York, but they weren't quite great enough to be taken seriously.

SHAUN CONSIDINE: The New York critics, you know, had savaged his work, so that's where all the fear and the anger come. He never became the playwright he thought he should have been, like an Arthur Miller or a Tennessee Williams. So he decided to turn around, and he would take the gifts he had as a playwright and bring them to the screen, and he started that with The Hospital. [FILM CLIP]

MAN: What are you going to do about those poor sick ghetto people, they need --

MAN: I am not going to do anything about - [END FILM CLIP]

SHAUN CONSIDINE: We were coming out of 1969-1970. There was, you know, drug use, they had the crime, the corruption. Everything had escalated. So he used Hospital as a microcosm of society in New York. That's the way he used it -- or contemporary society. [FILM CLIP]

MAN: It is all rubbish now. [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: By the time of The Hospital, starring George C. Scott, Chayefsky had arrived at a kind of speechifying that really hadn't been heard in movies in just that way. [FILM CLIP]

DR. HOWARD BOCK: We have established the most enormous medical entity ever conceived, and people are sicker than ever! We cure nothing! We heal nothing! [END FILM CLIP]

SHAUN CONSIDINE: The speeches that he had in The Goddess now became arias, practically, in Hospital -- this suicidal doctor who was essentially -- who was Paddy, as was Howard Beale, the mad anchorman in Network. These were Paddy Chayefsky. [FILM CLIP]

DR. HOWARD BOCK: We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad, worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We - [END FILM CLIP]

JOE ESZTERHAS: Chayefsky's always been my sole role model as a screenwriter.

SARA FISHKO: Notorious bad-boy screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was in town recently, promoting his new book, The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God. Eszterhas wrote Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge, among other films. We wound up talking about Paddy Chayefsky.

JOE ESZTERHAS: What he did, as opposed to almost all screenwriters, is fight tooth and nail to the wall, clawing, using his elbows, using his knees, to preserve his vision.

SARA FISHKO: Why did he have to fight so hard? Because everyone, says Joe Eszterhas, everyone's a writer.

JOE ESZTERHAS: Whether you're talking about the studio executive or the actor or the cabdriver, you know, or the gofer or the gaffer -- or the director -- they all think they're writers, and they all want to change and rewrite what you've done. It's insanity. The only way to stop that is by fighting, and then that's what Paddy did.

SARA FISHKO: After Network, for which he won his third Oscar, there were terrible problems for Chayefsky with a film called Altered States. Suffice it to say they found new ways to challenge Chayefsky's control, and without that, says, biographer Shaun Considine, he was a desperate man.

SHAUN CONSIDINE: The control took over. He was a controlaholic. That killed him. The rage killed him.

JOE ESZTERHAS: It broke Paddy's heart.

SARA FISHKO: Paddy Chayefsky died in 1981 at age 58.

JOE ESZTERHAS: His final words were, I tried, and I think they are the most heartbreaking words coming from a screenwriter. [FILM CLIP]

HOWARD BEALE: We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone - [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: Unless you count the words from Network, the popular film about a popular medium that went too far for comfort. [FILM CLIP]

HOWARD BEALE: I don't want you to write, I don't want you to write to your Congressman - [END FILM CLIP]

SHAUN CONSIDINE: Everything he spoke about happened. [FILM CLIP]

HOWARD BEALE: - I tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the - [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: That Chayefsky speechifying, corny and overdrawn and on the brink of absurdity though it may be, still makes us listen - [FILM CLIP]

HOWARD BEALE: God damn it! My life has value! [END FILM CLIP]

SARA FISHKO: - even a little harder now. For On the Media, I'm Sara Fishko. [FILM CLIP]

HOWARD BEALE: I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. [END FILM CLIP] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week’s show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Mike Vuolo and edited -- by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had engineering help from Wayne Shulmeister and other help from Alicia Rebensdorf and Michael McLaughlin. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find free transcripts, MP3 downloads and our podcast at onthemedia.org, and e-mail us at onthemedia@wnyc.org. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.