Paddy Cayefsky, one of this country's most successful playwrights who won critical and popular acclaim and professional awards for his work for television, movies and the stage, died of cancer Saturday at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. He was 58.
A hospital spokesman said Mr. Chayefsky had been ill for several weeks.
Mr. Chayefsky, one of television's earliest and best playwrights -- Variety, the show business trade paper, once said he wrote for television as if he had invented the medium -- also wrote the motion picture screenplays for several of his plays, which went on to win academy awards.
"Marty," his first major success on television, was a prize-winning movie as well as a box-office hit. It won an Oscar for best picture in 1955, as well as the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1954. Rooted in realism, a particular characteristic of his early work, it was the story of a homely and lonely butcher who finds love in middle age.
He also won an Oscar in 1977 for his screenplay for "network," a satirical, behind-the-scenes view of network television and, in 1971, for "Hospital," a satirical look at the inner workings of a metropolitan hospital. "
Mr. Chayefsky's other plays that were made into movies include "The Bachelor Party, "The Catered Affair," "The Goddess," and "Middle of the Night."
Regarded as a man of strong opinions, he began his career as a joke writer in his native New York City, where he graduated from the City College of New York.
Allthough the theater was one of his major loves -- his first produced play, "Middle of the Night," ran two years on Broadway, as did "The Tenth Man," -- he later turned away from the New York theater and offered his last play, "The Latent Heterosexual," only to repertory groups, where it was very successful.
His most recent screen credit was for "Altered States," the screenplay of a novel he published in 1978 about a professor who uses himself as a guinea pig. After quarreling with the film's director, Ken Russell, he insisted that the credit read, "Based on a novel by Paddy Chayefsky."
Six of his best television plays, "The Bachelor Party," "Printer's Measure," "Holiday Song," "The Big Deal," "The Mother" and "Marty," were included in a book titled "Television Plays by Paddy Chayefsky."
In the book's introduction, Mr. Chayefsky wrote of his perceptions of the early days of the medium and its relationship with the playwright. "In television," he said, "the writer is treated to a peculiar mixture of mock deference and outright contempt. He is rarely consulted about casting, his scripts are frequently mangled without his knowing about it, and he is certainly the most poorly paid person in the production. Some programs don't allow the writter to attend rehearsals of his own show. At the same time he is granted the proud title of playwright and, in every respect but his work, he is treated with dignity inherited from the stage."
After the show, "Ten minutes after the last commercial, the actors have vanished and their studio is empty. Anywhere from a month to six months have gone by since the writer submitted his first outline. He has put perhaps three weeks to three months of concentrated work into the show. For his troubles he will have received as little as $300 for some half-hour shows and as much as $3,000 reserved for the better known hour dramatists."
Mr. Chayefsky, who served as a private in the Army in World War II and received a Purple Heart after stepping on a land mine, got his nickname in the Army. In an effort to avoid K.P. duty, he told a lieutenant he wanted to attend Mass, whereupon the unconvinced lieutenant dubbed him "Paddy." The nickname stuck.
His other plays include "The Passion of Josef D." about the Russian Revolution, and "Gideon," his third play, which he described as a comedy-drama suggested by the Old Testament figure whose belief in God is nil. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1964 film, "The Americanization of Emily."
Mr. Chayefsky lived with his wife, Susan, and son, Dan, in an apartment overlooking New York's Central Park.