On this day in 1923, the great screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was born. I know him primarily from three films: Marty, The Hospital, and Network. I’ll admit, I’ve never really understood Marty. Mostly it is just that no one could ever think that Betsy Blair wasn’t pretty enough for Ernest Borgnine. But the screenplay is quite good. It is a very sweet film — the kind that would likely be panned if it were released today.
But it is Chayefsky’s sharp satire in The Hospital and Network that he is most known for. I think they hold up quite well. But that may not speak so much of the films as it does to the fact that the world hasn’t much changed. The Howard Beale Show and The Mao Tse-Tung Hour in Network are only different from modern reality television in that these fictional shows actually showed so creativity. All that Chayefsky missed about the future was that the people who would bring it to us would be so unrelentingly boring — and that the nation would be just fine with that.
Most people remember the admittedly great “I’m mad as hell!” speech. But it isn’t really what Network is all about. It’s sad that people don’t remember the one scene that is really important. It’s a speech that tells humans that they are meaningless. It is the speech that eventually causes Howard Beale to be assassinated. But it isn’t Beale’s speech. It is the head of CCA, Arthur Jensen, who gives the important speech. It isn’t important because we should believe it. It is important because it completely summarizes what the Jensens of the world think about the rest of us. And if we don’t stand up to those people, we will continue to live in their worlds. “There are no peoples… There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars.”
Just five years after the success of Network, Chayefsky died of cancer at 58 years old. It’s sad because he was on a roll. It would have been interesting to see what he went on to do.
Happy birthday Paddy Chayefsky!