Marty, a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky, was broadcast on live television in 1953, a time when such teleplays were common. It was such a tremendous hit that it was immediately optioned for film. The film version, only slightly different than the television version, was released in 1955 by Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions and is considered a classic of American cinema. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor, as well as one for Chayefsky for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is one of only two films to win both the Best Picture Oscar and the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. Chayefsky is considered one of the greatest television and movie writers of all time.
Marty tells the story of Marty Pilletti, a mild-mannered, middle-aged butcher who lives with his mother. All around him, people tell him that he should find a girl, marry, and settle down, but every girl whom Marty talks to rejects him. He is convinced that he is a fat, ugly, little man who is destined to spend his days alone. When Marty finally does meet, at a dance, a girl who understands him, who has felt the rejection he has felt, Marty sees his family and friends suddenly change their attitude. Instead of telling him that he should be ashamed of himself for being single, they convince him that she is not good enough for him.
The teleplay script of Marty is available in The Collected Works of Paddy Chayefsky: The Television Plays, published by Applause Books in 1995.
Sidney "Paddy" Chayefsky was born in New York City on January 29, 1923, to immigrant Ukrainian Jewish parents. He attended Dewitt Clinton High School in the city, and then went to City College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1943. He briefly attended Fordham University before going into the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. While in the army, he earned the nickname "Paddy," a traditionally Irish name, because he wanted to attend service at the Catholic church, even though he was Jewish. He was a private in the army until the end of the war in 1945, earning a Purple Heart when he was injured near Aachen, Germany. It was while he was recovering at a hospital near Cirencester, England, that he wrote his first hit, the musical play No T.O. for Love, which was produced by the army's Special Services and ran for two years at army bases throughout Europe before starting a commercial run in London's West End.
After the war, Chayefsky returned to New York and worked briefly in his uncle's printing shop. He became a gag writer for radio personality Robert Q. Lewis and wrote plays for radio and television, including a 1949 adaptation of Bud Selig's novel What Makes Sammy Run? for television. When his teleplay Marty was broadcast on May 24, 1953, as part of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) live series Philco Television Playhouse, it was such a critical and popular success that a film version was immediately approved. Chayefsky's contract stipulated that the film, which was released two years later, could be written by no one but him. The film earned him an Oscar for Best Screenplay. It also won the Academy Award for best picture in 1955, the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, the Catholic Award, and the New York Film Critics Award.
After the success of Marty, Chayefsky shifted his focus from television to film, where he was to earn as much critical praise as he did for his Page 185 | Top of Articletelevision work. His work for Hollywood ranged from the screen adaptation of the Western musical Paint Your Wagon in 1969, to his Oscar-winning script for The Hospital in 1971, to the scathing satire of television news in Network, which earned him his third Academy Award in 1976. Throughout the 1960s, he also wrote several plays for the Broadway stage, and in 1978 he released his first novel, Altered States. His screenplay of the book was made into a film in 1980, but Chayefsky did not like the director's vision and so had himself credited as "Sidney Aaron."
Paddy Chayefsky died of cancer in New York City on August 1, 1981, at the age of fifty-eight.
Marty begins on a Saturday afternoon in a butcher shop in the Italian area of New York. Marty Pilletti, a butcher, is a thirty-six-year-old man who generally maintains a cheerful disposition, even when he is feeling pressure. In this opening scene, Marty is talking with Mrs. Fusari, who the script identifies as the Italian Woman. She is interested in hearing about the marriage of Marty's younger brother Nickie over the past weekend. She asks about other members of the family while Marty works, and he describes them to her: his brother Freddie was married four years ago; his sister Margaret is married to an insurance salesman; his sister Rose is married to a contractor and lives in Detroit; his sister Frances married two and a half years earlier. As the character identified as the Young Mother tries to hurry Marty, the Italian Woman takes the time to chastise the butcher for not being married yet. He tells her that he needs to move her along because the Young Mother is impatient. When he does send the Italian Woman away, though, the Young Mother steps forward and takes her turn hectoring him about still being single.
Later that day, Marty joins his friend Angie in a booth at a local bar. This is where they often end up on Saturday nights, talking about girls whom they have met. Angie, not content to spend yet another Saturday night out with his friend, suggests that they phone the girls whom they had escorted home from the movie theater about a month earlier. Marty is not interested in calling them, and would be fine with just going bowling with Angie. "I'm a little, short, fat fellow," he explains, "and girls don't go for me, that's all." He tells Angie to feel free to call a girl for himself, but he does not want to go to the bother. Angie is displeased, but he sits back down and stays with Marty.
Time passes. The audience sees the clock changing from 4:50 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. and then sees Marty alone at the table, with three empty beer bottles in front of him. He finally gets up off of his seat and goes to the phone booth. He phones Mary Feeney, one of the girls whom he and Angie met at the movie theater. She does not Page 186 | Top of Articleremember him even as he reminds her of the theater, the fact that he is a butcher, or the fact that they took them out after the show. Finally, when she does remember him, Marty asks if she would like to go out, but she says that it is late to be calling her for a date that same night. She is busy the following week, and the next Saturday, and the Saturday after that, and Marty hangs up, depressed. As he leaves the bar, the Bartender asks about his younger brother's wedding, and Marty, almost reflexively, responds just as politely as he did for the ladies in his butcher shop that it was a nice wedding. The Bartender tells Marty that he should get married too.
The next scene takes place at Marty's house, where his mother is talking to his cousin Thomas and Thomas's wife, Virginia. They live with Thomas's mother Catherine in a small apartment with their new baby, and they are finding it difficult to get along. The most recent problem occurred three days earlier. Virginia was preparing milk for the baby's bottle and found herself so distracted by Catherine that she spilled some of the milk on the table; when Catherine complained that she was wasting expensive milk, Virginia's temper flared, and she threw the entire bottle of milk against the wall. Virginia apologized, but by then Catherine had already run out of the house. Marty's mother has already heard this story about Virginia's temper from Catherine, her sister. Virginia and Thomas suggest that it would make sense for the aunt to move in with Marty and his mother. Most of the people who live in that house have married and moved on, while the apartment that Virginia and Thomas share is so small that his mother does not even have her own bedroom. Marty's mother agrees, but says that they have to ask Marty.
Before Thomas and Virginia leave, Marty's mother asks if they know of any girls he can marry. Thomas suggests that he can find eligible girls at the Waverly Ballroom, where he used to meet girls when he was single.
Marty comes home, and Virginia and Thomas explain their situation to him while his mother goes off to prepare his dinner. He agrees that his aunt Catherine should move into the house. His mother comes back into the room just after they have left and suggests that Marty could meet girls at the Waverly Ballroom, using the same slang expression that Thomas used to describe the place, "It's loaded with tomatoes." Marty laughs, but when his mother presses him to find a girl to marry, he becomes defensive. He describes the phone call to Mary Feeney, and her rejection of him. He is ugly, he tells her, and girls do not want to date him.
When the second act opens, Marty and his friend Angie are at the Waverly Ballroom, standing off to the side with the other men who do not have dates, assessing the single women. Angie suggests that Marty should go and talk to a Short Girl, about twenty years old. Angie asks one of the girl's companions to dance, and she wearily agrees without a word, but the Short Girl tells Marty that she does not want to dance.
Returning to his place among the single men, Marty is approached by a Young Man with a proposition. The Young Man came to the ballroom with a blind date, but he has found another girl he likes better, so he offers Marty five dollars to pretend to be an old friend and escort his date home. Marty is aghast. He watches the Young Man walk off and find another man who is "stag," or unattached, and make the same offer. As Marty watches, they approach the Young Man's date, but she understands what is happening and sends them away. Passing by Marty, the Stag still insists that the Young Man owes him the five dollars that was offered.
Marty follows the dejected girl out to the fire escape and asks her if she would like to dance. She turns and falls into his arms, crying. Marty reaches back to close the door to the ballroom, then lets her continue crying.
Elsewhere, Marty's mother arrives at Thomas and Virginia's apartment to talk to her sister. She asks Catherine to come to live at her house, explaining that Thomas and Virginia and her baby need their privacy. Catherine responds by talking about feeling rejected and unwanted, and warns Theresa that she, too, will be left without a home to live in if Marty finds a girl to marry. In the end, though, Catherine agrees to come to her sister's house to live.
Meanwhile, Marty is dancing with Clara, the girl from the fire escape. She talks about the rejection she felt the last time she was at the Waverly Ballroom, when a young man called her ugly and said she would have no chance of getting someone to dance with her. Marty sympathizes with her. He is lonely too, he says. He recalls the kind of relationship that his father and mother had, noting that his father was an Page 187 | Top of Articleugly man. From that, he has always drawn hope that there would be someone out there for an ugly man like himself. They dance together, contented in each other's arms.
Marty and Clara stop in at his house. He offers her some leftover chicken. Before leaving to take her home, Marty tries to kiss her, but she backs away. Marty feels rejected, but she says that she would still like to go out with him again. She accepts his offer to go out together the next night and says that it might be possible that they will be together to go out on New Year's Eve together; Marty, overcome with emotion, leans against her shoulder, crying.
They separate when Marty's mother comes in with the news that Catherine is going to move in. The mother explains Catherine's loneliness, and Clara offers the opinion that a mother should have a life of her own. Marty's mother, remembering what her sister told her about how lonely she will be of Marty marries, becomes defensive, and Clara backs down on her assertions. They say good night politely.
It is Sunday, the morning after the previous two acts. Marty's mother and his aunt talk about the girl who was at the house with Marty when his mother came home the night before. His aunt warns her sister that he will marry her and then sell the house, as her own children did, leaving his mother no place to live. His mother does not take her seriously until Marty comes in and, noticing that some plaster has fallen from the ceiling, suggests that they should sell the house and look for an apartment. After that, she does what she can to sabotage Marty's relationship with Clara. She points out that Clara is not a very good-looking woman and refuses to believe that she is twenty-nine years old, as she claimed. She suggests that women with college educations have low moral standards. She tells Marty outright that she does not like Clara. When he leaves, she tells herself that she is no better than her sister Catherine.
Marty goes back to the bar. In the same booth he was at in Act 1 are Angie and other unattached men. One is telling the others about a book he read, featuring a tough detective who handles women roughly and is showered with their love in return. The others—a forty-year-old and a twenty-year-old—listen with rapt attention.
The men have heard that Marty was dancing with a homely girl at the ballroom the night before. Marty says that he enjoyed his time with Clara and wants to ask her out to a movie that night. Angie talks him out of calling her. When the conversation turns to the regular discussion of what movie or burlesque show the men can all go to that night, though, Marty suddenly realizes that he would be a fool to give up a chance for a relationship with a nice girl like Clara. He goes to the phone booth, but before dialing Clara's number he asks Angie when he is going to get married, taking satisfaction in the chance to use the very same line that everyone has been using on him throughout the teleplay.
Angie is Marty's friend. He is thirty-four years old and slight in build. He and Marty are so familiar with each other that when Marty sits down across from him at the table in the bar, Marty simply takes a section of the newspaper Angie is reading, without saying a word.
In the first act, Marty is content to just spend the evening with Angie, but Angie feels that, since it is Saturday night, they should try to get dates. When Marty backs away from calling girls, Angie leaves without him. Marty later catches up with Angie at the Waverly Ballroom, which is where unattached men go to find girls.
Although he has trouble getting women interested in him, Angie has high standards about women. When he talks about them with Marty, he always has judgments about their looks. This reaches a high point at the end of the teleplay, when Angie nearly convinces Marty that Clara is too homely for him. Marty realizes that Angie is too discriminating and he turns on his friend with the same line that people have been taunting him with, telling Angie that he ought to be ashamed of himself for not being married yet.
Marty's Aunt Catherine is a bitter woman. She has been living in a one-bedroom apartment with her son Thomas, his wife Virginia, and their infant baby when the teleplay begins. The young couple feels that Catherine is difficult to live with because she makes Virginia nervous and angry. When Virginia throws a bottle of milk Page 188 | Top of Articleagainst the wall, Catherine goes to her sister, Marty's mother, and says that bottle was thrown at her. Theresa asks Catherine if she would like to move into the house where she and Marty live, and Catherine points out that people have been conspiring against her, but still, she agrees to move. She nearly poisons Theresa's relationship with Marty by insisting that Marty will abandon her if he marries, just as she was abandoned by her son Thomas.
Soon after Marty has been rejected by Mary Feeney, whom he calls for a date, the Bartender, Lou, asks about his brother Nickie's wedding. Instead of being bitter, Marty answers politely that it was a very nice wedding. Without meaning to, the Bartender compounds the pain of Marty's rejection by telling him he should be married too, not realizing how aware Marty is that women do not find him attractive.
See The Young Mother
See The Aunt
In the last scene, on Sunday night, several single, dateless men are assembled at a table at the bar. The Critic is the man who has just finished reading a detective novel and is telling the others about it. He admires the way that the hard-boiled detective in the book was cruel toward women, and how they loved him even more for it. It is clear that the Critic's knowledge about human relationships comes from books, not actual experience.
See The Girl
Mary Feeney's name first comes up early in the first act, when Marty and Angie are sitting at the bar, trying to decide what to do that night. Angie reminds Marty that they met Mary and her friend at the movie theater a few weeks earlier and accompanied them home, and he suggests that they might call them again for dates. Later, after he has been left alone, Marty does call Mary Feeney. She is slow in remembering him and, when she does, she rejects one offer for a date after another, leaving Marty to conclude that she is not interested in him.
See The Italian Woman
Clara Davis is a twenty-nine-year-old history teacher at Benjamin Franklin High School, and a graduate of New York University. In the script, she is identified as "The Girl." She is not very good looking, having her looks criticized by Marty's friend Angie and by a young man who, in a story she tells, once walked past her at the Waverly Ballroom and went out of his way to insult her. When Marty first meets her, she has just been abandoned by her date, and she turns to him, a stranger, and cries on his shoulder. She and Marty have a long discussion on the night that they meet, showing great empathy for one another. When Marty tries to kiss her, she backs away, but makes it clear that her timidity does not mean that she does not like him. She goes on to kiss him again and lets him escort her home.
The Italian Woman
In the first scene, the Italian Woman, Mrs. Fusari, talks to Marty about his family while he cuts her order. When she hears that all of his brothers and sisters, including those younger than him, are married, she tells Marty that he should be ashamed that he is not married yet.
Marty lives with his mother, Theresa Pilletti. In general, she is as shy and courteous as he is. When her nephew Thomas asks if her sister can move into the house, Theresa is willing to accommodate him, but she also says that she must ask Marty first. She starts the teleplay concerned about Marty, the only one of her six children who has not married. After talking with her sister Catherine, however, she becomes concerned that if Marty marries she will be abandoned, as Catherine was. She finds fault with the one girl who likes Marty, Clara, saying that Clara is lying about her age and that she is probably snobbish or morally corrupt because of her college education.
Marty is a thirty-six-year-old butcher in New York. He is a quiet, courteous man who speaks with respect to his customers, to his relatives, and Page 189 | Top of Articleto the few women who will talk to him. He does not think that he has any chance with women because, as he states several times throughout the teleplay, he is "a fat, ugly little man."
Generally, Marty's problem with women is a minor part of his life because he associates with a group of men at the bar—most notably, his best friend, Angie—who are just as bad at dating. At the start of this teleplay, however, the situation has changed. The recent wedding of his brother brings attention to the fact that Marty is unmarried, and the fact that it was his younger brother makes people mindful of Marty's age. Older women are not shy about telling him that he should be married because they do not see him as fat or short or ugly, they just see him as a kind man who would be a good provider.
Marty is protective of Clara after watching her date abandon her, amazed that a man would treat a woman cruelly. When she shows her vulnerability, he is able to show his own vulnerability to her, telling her that he cries often. Thinking that it is what is expected of him, he does try to force her to kiss him when they are alone in his house, but when she rejects him he backs off, afraid that he has ruined their blossoming relationship. He is grateful that she is still willing to date him.
After being pushed to find a girl and marry her throughout the teleplay, Marty suddenly finds that no one wants him to date Clara. His mother, having seen how her sister feels abandoned by her own son, is afraid that Marty will marry and want his own life, leaving her alone. His friend Angie, who cannot find dates for himself, declares that Clara is not good looking enough to date. Marty almost gives in to peer pressure, only changing his mind at the last minute when he realizes that the men at the bar are going through the same tired process of deciding what to do for entertainment that they go through every night. He recognizes that he has almost let his one chance to date a kind woman go by. He decides that he is going to go out with Clara, and if things go well enough, some day he might marry her.
See The Mother
The Short Girl
Having been encouraged to go to the Waverly Ballroom to meet girls, Marty approaches the Short Girl to ask her to dance. She rejects him, leaving him feeling rejected, despondent, and angry when the Young Man asks Marty to help abandon his blind date.
After Marty refuses to help him by taking his date home, the Young Man approaches another man, the Stag, and offers him the same deal that he offered Marty. They talk to Clara, but she can tell that these two men are not old friends at all, as they pretend to be, and she sends them away. The Young Man wants his five dollars back because the plan failed, but the Stag feels that he deserves the money for trying. "Stag" is slang for a man who goes to a social event without a date.
Marty's cousin Thomas has the same gentle disposition that Marty has. Thomas is in an uncomfortable position, stuck between a wife and a mother who cannot get along with each other and feeling loyalty for each. He is apologetic about asking Marty to take his mother in, but he knows that she incites Virginia's temper, which is not good for their child.
The Twenty-Year-Old is one of the men who gather at the bar on Sunday night. He is impressionable, listening raptly to the ideas the older men have about women.
Virginia is a young wife and mother, married to Marty's cousin Thomas. They live in a cramped little apartment with Thomas's mother, but Virginia and her mother-in-law, Catherine, do not get along. Catherine, she says, makes her nervous. Virginia's relationship with her mother-in-law is made even worse by Virginia's violent temper, as exhibited by the fact that, criticized for spilling a little milk and being wasteful, she reacts by smashing an entire quart of milk against the wall. Virginia is polite with the other characters in the teleplay, and seems to only have problems getting along with Catherine.
The Young Man
At the Waverly Ballroom, Marty is approached by a Young Man who thinks he has a problem. He came with a blind date and he found a girl Page 190 | Top of Articlethat he likes better. He offers Marty five dollars to pretend to be an old friend from the army and offer to take the blind date home. Marty is insulted by the idea and refuses. The Young Man finds another man willing to go along with it, but the girl, Clara, sees through their pretense and sends them both away.
The Young Mother
In the first scene of the teleplay, the Young Mother, whom Marty addresses as Mrs. Canduso, is shopping in Marty's butcher shop. She is in a hurry and is impatient while the Italian Woman being served ahead of her talks to Marty about his brother's wedding and tells him that he should be ashamed for not being married himself. When her turn comes, however, the Young Mother takes the time to chastise him as well.
Marriage and Courtship
Marty begins the weekend after the marriage of Marty's younger brother, Nickie. Though Nickie does not appear in the teleplay, his marriage has a significant impact on Marty's life. Not only is Marty the only one of the six Pillettis still unmarried but he has also been overtaken by a sibling younger than himself, upsetting what people take to be the natural order. People in his neighborhood feel free to tell him that he ought to be married, and that he should be ashamed of himself because he is not. They treat Marty as if he is committing a crime against society by remaining single.
With all of the social pressure on Marty to find a girl and marry her, he holds firmly to his ideals. He does not want to go out with girls just because it is what is expected of him. When he sees how the Young Man, who is on a blind date with Clara, treats her, offering strangers a bribe to take her home, Marty's sense of decency is outraged. Though he has not had much experience with women, he knows better. His decency is rewarded when Clara becomes interested in him. When she envisions their relationship going on for months, all the way to New Year's Eve, Marty is moved to tears.
In the end, Marty's approach to marriage is level-headed and sensible. Having been pressured to find a wife when no suitable candidates were around and then pressured to quit thinking of Clara as a suitable candidate, he decides that he will prostrate himself before her and "beg that girl" to marry him. He will not do this out of desperation, though, but only if the two "have Page 191 | Top of Articleenough good times together," which shows that he is approaching this relationship with hopes that are not unrealistic.
One of the defining characteristics of Marty Pilletti is his devotion to his relatives, who play a significant role in his life. His strong connection to his family can be seen most clearly in the way that, in the very first scene, he rattles off the names and whereabouts of each of his siblings for the Italian Woman, showing that they are constantly on Marty's mind. It is also obvious in the fact that, at thirty-six, he still lives with his mother and takes care of her.
The other members of his family are just as devoted to their relatives. His cousin Thomas has been trying to watch over his mother, just like Marty has. Their circumstances are different, however—Thomas is married, has a child, and lives in a one-bedroom apartment, and his wife and mother do not get along. When they accept the fact that they cannot have Catherine living with them, Thomas'swifeVirginia calls Thomas's brother Joe to talk to him about the problem before they come to Marty and his mother for help. When asked if he would mind if his Aunt Catherine moved into his house, Marty agrees immediately, without even listening to the circumstances of her leaving her son's apartment. Marty must know that his aunt is a difficult woman, but in his worldview there is simply no way to refuse a favor to a family member. This is why audiences can tell that, even though his Aunt Catherine has put worrisome thoughts into his mother's head, Marty will never abandon his mother if and when he marries.
Marty's dedication to his family is mirrored in his steadfast commitment to the people around him who form his community. To the customers at his butcher shop, he is almost like a surrogate son. They can talk to him freely, ask personal questions, and give their opinions about how he is living his life. He is calm and patient with them, allowing them to state their opinions, which may be one reason why customers come to Marty's shop and talk.
Marty's easygoing manner does not ingratiate him to any of the women that he meets, but it does help him fit in with a circle of friends at the
bar. This community of single men might help him avoid loneliness, but they also nearly cost him the one chance that he has for a romantic relationship when his friends disapprove of Clara. Briefly, he is willing to accept their opinion that a woman like Clara is not good enough for him, even when there are those among them who have never met or seen her. Marty is devoted to his community of friends, but he stops himself just before allowing his devotion to sabotage the happy future that he knows is possible.
Beauty and Ugliness
Several times in this teleplay, Marty points out that he is not an attractive man. The people whom he feels he has to tell this to do not seem to recognize his physical shortcomings, though; they, including his mother and his friend Angie, are not looking at him as a prospective romantic partner, and so his looks mean little to them. Several times in the teleplay, however, he approaches women for a date and finds them completely uninterested, as happens with Mary Feeney, who does not remember him a few weeks after he escorted her home, and with the Page 192 | Top of ArticleShort Girl at the Waverly Ballroom. Though they avoid him, Chayefsky's script purposely does not make clear whether they really find him physically objectionable, or just uninteresting. The point is that romantic interest is just a matter of mindset and not of external beauty.
Marty makes this point when he tells Clara about his parents' marriage. His father, he says, was an ugly man, and yet Marty admired the depth of his devotion to Marty's mother, and her devotion to him. From observing them, he learned that good looks do not have to teleplay an important role in having a healthy relationship.
It is ironic, therefore, that Marty nearly gives up on his relationship with Clara because his friend Angie has seen her from afar and judged her a "dog." There is nothing in the script to indicate that Marty is repelled by her looks himself. When he speaks frankly about her homely looks, he does so in a completely objective way. Like most of the people he associates with, Marty does not put much importance on Clara's looks, which may be why he is unsure of how to act when his friends at the bar tell him to stay away from her because she is ugly.
Chayefsky wrote Marty using the sort of informal, colloquial style that would be common in the working class section of New York in the post-war years. This includes contractions that are specific to the Italian immigrant families whom these characters represent, as when the script contains the line "Watsa matter" for "what's the matter," or "lemme" for "let me," or "she spills a couple-a drops" for "a couple of drops." Chayefsky also includes particular phrases that would have been common in the community, such as when Marty tells his customer the price of the meat he has been cutting and asks, "How's that with you?" The characters' use of language frequently shows their lack of education. Marty's mother often uses incorrect grammar, as when she repeats herself and uses a contraction and an improper negative in saying, "My sister Catherine, she don't get along with her daughter-in-law, so she's gonna come live with us." The use of slang diction is very important in this teleplay for establishing who these characters are and why they see the world the way that they do. Chayefsky has been frequently praised for his ability to hear how people from this particular neighborhood would speak and for being able to put the sound of their voices down on paper.
The Emergence of Television
Marty was written as a teleplay for television, broadcast on the Philco Television Playhouse on Sunday, May 23, 1953.
Though television became commercially available in the United States in 1940, the country did not really embrace it while World War II was going on. Resources were being drawn on by the war effort, and most households could not afford the costly television sets. When the war ended in 1945, however, the country found itself flush with a new prosperity that it had not known since before the stock market crash of 1929. Economic prosperity brought the means to expand television's range and also the leisure time that allowed people to sit back and watch the programs. The first television network, DuMont, began in 1946, connecting New York and Washington; NBC began regular broadcasts in 1947; CBS and ABC began in 1948.
When television was in its infancy, broadcast networks were hard pressed to find enough material to put on the air. Motion pictures with sound had only been around for about twenty years, limiting the existing catalogs. Sporting events were always popular, but events were not always being staged. There began a struggle to produce original programming for broadcast as the networks' range extended westward across the continent.
The model that was often followed for show content was that of the Broadway stage. Most of the networks grew out of the radio networks established in the previous decades and their executives were not used to thinking visually. Also, cameras were large, cumbersome, and difficult to move, so they were best suited for capturing shows from one stationary perspective, the way an audience member would watch a stage play. Most significantly, all four television networks were based in New York City, which was and still is the country's home for live theater. Television producers went to Broadway to recruit writers, directors, and actors, and the Page 193 | Top of Articleproduction values that they brought with them are evident in the shows they developed. For many, putting quality programming on the air was viewed as an important civic responsibility, a duty to use their new tool to bring culture to the nation.
Philco Television Playhouse was typical of the shows that ran on television at the time, part of a genre that included such classic series as Kraft Television Theater, Actors Studio, and Studio One. It premiered on October 3, 1948, and ran for seven years. Like many other series of the time, Philco was an anthology series, with different actors and writers for each episode. Also typical of the time was that it was broadcast live, and shows were only taped for broadcast in later time zones, not for permanent record. A recording of the original broadcast of Marty does exist, but the quality is not good enough to make it commercially available. Many shows from this period, which is commonly referred to as "The Golden Age of Television," have been talked about and written about, but are not available to be seen.
The writers who provided material for the teledramas of the 1940s and early 1950s often used television as a launching pad for great careers. In addition to Chayefsky, other writers who wrote for Philco include Horton Foote, Arnold Schulman, and Gore Vidal. Dozens of the actors who would become movie stars in the 1960s and 70s learned their trade acting in live television dramas. Directors who worked in teledramas and went on to influence Hollywood include Robert Altman, John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet, and Sidney Pollack.
As the 1950s wore on and television matured, live teledramas fell out of favor. Shows began relying on the multiple-camera structure, which situated several cameras around the studio to capture actions from different angles, giving television shows a look that was distinct from movies. Producers realized the benefits of filming shows. Not only could mistakes be edited out but reruns of shows proved to be a valuable part of television's financial structure. Audiences began to form emotional bonds to characters in continuing series and lost interest
in one-time teleplays. Television programming became more focused on how to create a product that was best suited for its medium, instead of copying the aesthetic principles used by radio, movies, or the stage.
Critics had little to say about Marty when it appeared on live television in 1953 because there was no way to preview it before the broadcast, and as soon as it was shown the networks and viewers had moved on to other things. But the fact that it was quickly adapted to film with a script also written by Paddy Chayefsky allowed many reviewers to go back and refer to Chayefsky's work on the teleplay in their nearly universal praise of the movie. For instance, Ronald Holloway, writing in Variety, suggests that, based on the evidence ofMarty, more films should be made from television sources. Calling it a "sock picture" (show business slang for "socko," or powerfully successful), Holloway writes, "It's a warm, human, sometimes sentimental and an enjoyable experience." In the Saturday Review, Arthur Knight expresses his hope that this adaptation will lead to more movies from television scripts. "For what this lovely, touching, wonderfully human picture reveals is that a fine TV script provides a better basis for a film than possibly any other source of movie material outside of the bona fide original," he writes. Like many reviewers, he particularly notes Chayefsky's ability to make his characters come alive:
There must be millions of Martys. What makes this Marty exceptional is the fact that Chayefsky has created him so fully, with such warmth and humor and affection, that inevitably all the other lonely Martys who wonder how to spend their Saturday nights are reflected in his image.
The novelty of moving a television show onto the big screen was also noted in John McCarten's review of the film for the New Yorker. "A gentleman with the improbable name of Paddy Chayefsky has adapted a television script of his own devising into a movie called Marty," he writes, "and the end product is a remarkable tour de force." Time magazine's unnamed reviewer felt reservations about Chayefsky's "almost too clever script," but notes that
at his best this writer, who was born and raised in a Jewish-Italian part of The Bronx, can find the vernacular truth and beauty in ordinary lives and feelings. And he can say things about his people that he could never get away with if he were not a member of the family.
Over the course of the next decade, Chayefsky came to be as well known for his work in movies as he was in live television, but even in reviewing some of the most influential films of their day (such as The Hospital and Network), critics usually identified Chayefsky as the man who wrote Marty.
Kelly is a writer and an instructor of creative writing and literature. In this essay, he examines the understated elements of dramatic tension in Marty.
The nicest thing about Paddy Chayefsky's teleplay Marty, written for live television in the 1950s, is that it manages to introduce so many issues that are part of common life without dwelling on them. Life is presented in the teleplay, not explained; to use the old writers' adage, Page 195 | Top of Articleit is shown, not told. Like any good drama, Marty is driven by dramatic tension. The sources of tension are accepted as part of the characters' lives. This is what makes Marty seem so much like real life, where issues are dealt with but situations stay the same, the accepted background of everyday life.
In an essay called "Marty: Two Choices of Material," written to accompany the printed edition of the teleplay, Chayefsky wrote about working with common events and characterizations instead of showing people of grand appetites and emotions leading lives composed of highly significant moments. He attributed his ability to be subtle to the fact that he was using television as his canvas. Plays for the stage, Chayefsky wrote, require large, dramatic moments, the kind of telling incidents that will communicate to audiences the characters' inner turmoil. Movies, too, rely on grand gestures, and are populated with characters who are more exotic and conspicuous than ordinary people. Both tell their stories in big, open places, to hundreds of people at a time, and have to communicate the emotions driving the story to the people at the back of the furthest balcony. Television, on the other hand, is better suited for interpreting ordinary life because it is such an intimate medium, bringing the story into people's homes on a box so small, for most of its history, that the most common camera technique in the 1950s was the close-up, which draws attention to every nuance of the actors' faces. This was the situation at the time when Marty was written, although things have changed since then. Wireless microphones let actors speak in the largest auditoriums without raising their voices above a whisper, for instance, and the Page 196 | Top of Articledistribution pipeline that brings movies to television within a few months of theatrical release has made the techniques for each mostly indistinguishable.
In his essay, Chayefsky refers to a few of the tensions that he feels are unstated in Marty, even though he refuses to analyze them for his readers. "I do not like to theorize about drama," he writes. "I suspect the academic writer, the fellow who can precisely articulate his theater." He mentions that the teleplay has overtones of homosexuality and the Oedipal complex, two popular issues in the 1950s, when Freudian psychoanalysis was at its prime, but he steers clear of explaining how each functions in his teleplay. He refuses particular interpretations of his work, though Chayefsky does not want to leave the impression that a work can be vaguely about unrelated events. There is enough drama in real life to feed any number of teleplays, he feels, without resorting to either the big significant moments that movies and stage plays require or the kinds of larger-than-life characters that are needed to hold audiences' attention in both of those outsized media.
While Chayefsky decided that it is not the author's place to explore the unresolved dramatic tensions that drive his work, there is nothing to say that readers should take the same hands-off approach. Marty might seem to be a plain, unaltered slice of life, but it only really seems that way to readers who are able to slip right past some very prominent issues. No teleplay would be as compelling to generation after generation as Marty is if it were not held together with the very basic tensions of life. The teleplay does not flaunt these tensions as openly as many artistic works, but they are there.
For instance, Chayefsky's work raises the eternal question of how one generation should behave toward the generation that came before it. Marty's mother, Theresa Pilletti, has the kind of divided emotions that make a character dramatic in traditional theater. She wants her son to evolve, to take a wife and start a family, but she has also seen, from the firsthand experience of her own sister, that, following marriage, a son might abandon his mother. Audiences, of course, do not consider Theresa to be in any real danger of finding herself shut out of Marty's life. He is such a thoroughly decent guy that there is little reason to believe he would not find some way to include his mother in his new life, if he were to marry, as it seems he probably will when the story ends. Still, the issue of one generation moving away from the past is brought up in Marty, and it is undeniably one of the teleplay's driving forces. Chayefsky does not examine what would happen if Marty and Clara start a life free of his mother, but within the world of the teleplay, such a thing could easily happen. After all, there is every reason to believe that Marty's cousin Thomas is just as nice a fellow as Marty is, but circumstances do lead Thomas to choose his wife and child over his mother. Furthermore, the teleplay clearly demonstrates that Marty's best intentions can be overridden when he is trying to please two opposing factions at once, so that he actually comes near letting the first girl he possibly could date slip away. In the teleplay, the issue of abandonment of the elderly is brought up by Marty's Aunt Catherine. She is presented as the sort of person who would be angry and paranoid no matter what life handed her, but her personality does not make the issue any less real.
A related issue driving the teleplay is the natural tension between mothers and their daughters-in-law. Chayefsky keeps this issue out of the center of the teleplay, but the volatile relationship between Catherine and Virginia is more than just a coincidence of two strong-willed women whose lives came into contact with each other. Though these two people happen to both be headstrong, there is also a sense that conflict would occur even between two mild-mannered people. There is a natural wariness between mothers who dominate their sons' lives and the women who take those sons away. Page 197 | Top of ArticleMarty's suspicions of Clara, who is educated and has the self-assurance to disagree with his mother when they first meet, is stoked by Aunt Catherine. Though Theresa exaggerates, his mother is correct to assume that Marty's relationship with Clara will alter, and most certainly diminish, his relationship with her. This is another existing issue that Chayefsky chose to not resolve, or even explore in depth, but is undeniably present in the teleplay, and audiences who see or read Marty cannot help but be aware of it on some level.
While these issues are pushed to the periphery, there is one that is central, as one of the teleplay's driving forces: society's perception of the unmarried man. This teleplay is, at its core, a love story, and the major obstacle to Marty and Clara's love is not his looks or her looks but Marty's uncertainty about how to handle his social position. When he was younger, being unmarried was not such a significant issue as it is at this point in Marty's life—customers and family members did not tell him he should be ashamed of who he is. In the teleplay, however, after a tender, honest start on the fire escape, social pressures make Marty approach Clara with a range of insincere and self-defeating gestures. He does not know how to behave because he is ashamed.
To the audience of 1953, an unattached thirty-six-year-old man may have seemed freakishly out of place in society, as so many characters in the teleplay are quick to point out. In the twenty-first century, however, audience members are not as quick to judge because divorce rates have risen, homosexuality is commonly accepted, and people are less assertive about when a person should be married. Along with relaxed social standards comes increased vigilance. Fewer people might find Marty odd, but those who do would be more likely to check his name on the local police department's list of sex offenders. Even though times have changed, Marty's situation is still conspicuous—not enough to qualify him as one of those larger-than-life characters who populate theatrical productions but enough that audiences will always wonder what makes a man like Marty tick. That is the essence of powerful drama.
The one other unexamined source of dramatic tension driving Marty is the mystery that men are to women and women are to men. This is, of course, an important part of Marty's trouble in the teleplay, but Chayefsky only touches on one aspect of it—the consternation of the single man—without bringing the whole issue into focus. He shows how some single men are more than just insensitive, they are downright cruel. The Young Man at the Waverly Ballroom offers other men money to take his blind date off of his hands; Angie spreads the word through the bar that Clara is a "dog"; a youth insults Clara without provocation, merely because she looked at him expectantly. Chayefsky does not just show that single men are cruel, he also shows why they are that way, with the crowd of Marty's friends at the bar discussing the tough-guy antics of Mickey Spillane's character Mike Hammer as if this detective novel had any bearing on reality. These men are clueless, grasping at straws. Chayefsky does not explain why women keep rejecting Marty. As Marty explains in his moving speech about his parents' marriage, it is quite possible for people who are "ugly" to have fulfilling relationships. Either the women whom Marty approaches do not understand this, which could well be given the circumstances under which he meets them, or there is something about him—his awkwardness, his timidity—that makes them reject him. Chayefsky does not say.
Much is unsaid in Marty. Situations are presented with implied meanings lurking beneath their surfaces. Chayefsky purposely wrote this teleplay for broadcast on television, knowing that matters of ordinary life can resonate with television audiences in ways that do not require an author's explanation. This teleplay is meant to reflect life as it is, and that means that the dramatic tensions that other playwrights draw attention to are left for audiences to understand on their own.
Source: David Kelly, Critical Essay on Marty, in Drama for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
In the following essay, Dentley compares the film adaptation of Marty to the play Middle of the Night, both by Chayefsky.
One of the current topics of conversation in New York is Paddy Chayefsky, the first writer, I imagine, whose works have been adapted, not to, but from, TV. Nor is this fact all that is remarkable about the film Marty and the play Middle of the Night. Mr. Chayefsky draws on the everyday life of New York with so much ease and eager Page 198 | Top of Articleinterest, you could believe for a moment that no one had ever been familiar with New York before. He has his eyes and ears open, he enjoys a lot of what he sees, hears, and he has the talent to communicate some of the enjoyment and many of the facts. Some of his humorous sallies—such as when the young husband in Marty bawls out his wife for her lunches out of cans and cellophane—are worthy of Odets. Nor, any more than Odets, are they merely literal transcripts of life. They are often closer to the comic strip. If a man says once: "That Mickey Spillane, boy, he sure can write," you can rest assured he'll say it three times. And, at his worst, Mr. Chayefsky will just give a character a tagline like: "what the hell?"
It is perhaps in the nature of the case that the film would be far superior to the play, for the talent of Mr. Chayefsky is wholly journalistic, and the camera is a better reporter of external facts than the stage will ever be. If Mr. Chayefsky's mentality is not to bother you, you need the constantly busy camera to keep your attention fixed on the streets, bars, kitchens, and bedrooms of Manhattan. In the role of a John Gunther "inside New York," Mr. Chayefsky is charmingly successful. Another valid comparison would be with De Sica, for Marty conveys a similar sense of relaxed identification with lower-class metropolitan life, not without a similar romanticism about it. Enjoining these things, you are prepared not to probe beneath the surface—until you see Middle of the Night, Mr. Chayefsky's play about a middle-aged widower (Edward G. Robinson) who woos and wins a married woman of 24.
Even then you may like what you find, provided only that your demands on the theatre are quite different from mine. What do you go to the theatre for? To recognize things out of the life you left behind you? To say of this actor; "He's just like Mr. Jones across the way," and of that: "Just like my husband!" and of this speech or the other one: "Just what mother always says!"? It is true that our theatre expends a lot of energy engineering such recognitions; and perhaps one day—1984?—drama will consist of absolutely nothing else. If so, Mr. Chayefsky is riding the wave of the future.
That he is certainly riding the wave of the present is best proved from the thematic substance of his works. Are you lonely? Plain? A little old, now, for marriage? Have you fallen in love with a man old enough to to be your father? Or can't you manage to fall in love at all? Is your potency on the wane now you're past 50? Do you find call-girls sordid yet fail to find a satisfying alternative? As I think back to Middle of the Night, I have it all mixed up, somehow, with memories of "Mr. Anthony" on the radio years ago or Norman Vincent Peale in a magazine the other day. "Now tell me: do you think it'd be right for me to break with my husband?" "My dear, that is a question only you can answer." But I think this Shakespearean retort was uttered by Edward G. Robinson in reply to the leading lady. The whole play is like that except that, later on, Mr. Robinson stops being cagey and answers all questions, including the question: what is love? I am not going to reveal what his answers are. You can guess: for this author can be relied upon to tell you what you want to hear. What you want to hear, not what a given character would say: that is the formula. Or, one might express it, he doesn't write characters, he writes audiences.
When an author writes with his audience, not his characters, in mind, his writing is necessarily all calculation and contrivance. Which is why Mr. Chayefsky's intended eulogy to average humanity doesn't work out—or, rather, why the averageness works out, and not the humanity. Perhaps this is as it should be for the playwright of the age—this age of salesmanship, of what Riesman calls "outer direction," of conformity and uniformity. The idea of an "average man" is valid enough in certain fields—"the average man fills so many cans of garbage a day," etc. But much as we all love our average man, none of us will confess to being him: whatever our weakness, we feel too full of freedom and possibility to accept the title; and the artist, pre-occupied with such feelings, is interested precisely in the non-averageness even of the person stigmatized as average. Perhaps, outside his plays, Mr. Chayefsky would be unmodern enough to support the artist in this (for one deplores in him the abuse, not the absence, of intelligence); but, inside the plays, we truly get the average and not the unique, the preachment and not the truth, the facts and not the life of the facts.
The relation of such a play to performance is an annoying one. It is true that fine actors have always appeared in false and rubbishy plays. But the falsehood of, say, Sarah Bernhardt's vehicles by Sardou and the rest was overt and involved Page 199 | Top of Articleno deception: the falsehood of melodrama is even enjoyed as such. Since the rise of realism, human falsity can be wrapped up in facts and offered as genuine, realism being the vehicle of unreality. So here with Edward G. Robinson in Middle of the Night. Delmore Schwartz was saying recently that the acted emotions of Julie Harris went far beyond the written emotions of John Steinbeck; and Paddy Chayefsky owes it to Mr. Robinson, whose acting is wonderfully weighty as well as full of apt detail, that people will think there is a man in his play. There is a more cheerful way of looking at it: the stage is a form in which some of an author's deficiencies may be made good by actors. Out of a few rather empty lines Anne Jackson and Martin Balsam build handsome histrionic creations. Miss Jackson is one of the most skillful actresses we have.
Joshua Logan directed the actors well, though he had a heroine with whom no directing could do very much, and this author brings out Logan's weaknesses as much as his strength; for Logan too tends to make a fetish of the audience, and consequently to insult it with unworthy devices—such as, in this case, imitation-TV captions and imitation-TV background music.
Source: Éric Dentley, Review of Marty and Middle of the Night, in New Republic, Vol. 134, No. 9, February 27, 1956, p. 21.
Frank W. Wadsworth
In the following essay, Wadsworth critiques the works published in the collection Television Plays of Paddy Chayefsky, Marty among them, concluding that while the works are insightful, they possess a "saccharine quality that does not reflect Chayefsky's own outlook on life."
The appearance of Television Plays of Chayefsky is more than a passing moment in publishing history, marking the first time that the plays of a single television dramatist have been gathered together into one volume. Three hundred and forty years of wonderful theater have come and gone since a similar event—the first collected edition of plays by an English dramatist—occurred; yet, there is an interesting parallel to be observed between the arrival of Ben Jonson's Works in 1616 and Mr. Chayefsky's six plays in 1955. Jonson's dramas were the product of a highly commercial theater, and the literati who graced court affairs (the literary teas of the day) elevated their elegant noses at the thought that the author of writings designed to make money should have the temerity to consider his plays literature. Similarly, Mr. Chayefsky's plays are the product of a medium that few will deny exists mainly for the purpose of making money and that, according to the judgment of the purer literary circles, is therefore incapable of giving birth to anything of real value.
But Jonson's plays confounded the critics and, in spite of the commercial nature of the theater which begot them, turned out to be among the brightest achievements of English drama. As a result, it seems not unreasonable to ask, without implying in any way that the author is another Jonson, whether the six plays of Paddy Chayefsky do not also have intrinsic value as drama.
Messrs. Simon and Schuster, the publishers, seem to have some doubts, one notices, for their advertising of the volume has stressed Chayefsky's own analyses of his craft, which accompany the plays, rather than the plays themselves. As Franklin Fearing pointed out in the Fall, 1955, issue of the Quarterly, these analyses are of great interest and value to the would-be playwright. But for the student of the drama, at least, the main significance of Television Plays of Paddy Chayefsky is the appearance in print of six plays by a gifted young writer who is widely acclaimed as television's foremost dramatist. Here, at last, is a chance to form a literary judgment not only of one of the finest serious writers in this newest of entertainment media but through him, perhaps, of the literary potential of the medium itself.
This essay, therefore, will attempt to answer two questions on the basis of the evidence afforded by Chayefsky's six plays. First, can television drama validly be classed as literature? Second, if it can be so classed, to what extent is its value as literature affected by the peculiar demands of the television medium? Before turning to the answers, however, it will be helpful to summarize the major characteristics of the plays.
With the exception of Holiday Song, a realistic fantasy in the O'Neill tradition, the plays are brief, intimate dramas of lower- and middle-class life, designed to be played in fifty-odd minutes of viewing time. In keeping with their author's conviction that the television screen cannot effectively handle more than four people at any one moment, they seldom bring in view more than this number at once. Yet, there is no feeling of thinness, or of over concentration; for Chayefsky, aided by the spatial fluidity of his medium, makes constant use of the subplot, thereby filling his plays with a goodly number of people.
Since Chayefsky feels that the seemingly undramatic events of ordinary existence are far more significant to a modern audience than the great tensions of the traditional drama, his plays all look searchingly at the run-of-the-mill problems of run-of-the-mill people.
Marty, for example, details the coming of love to a squat, unattractive butcher of an Italian district in New York City and a thin, plain school-teacher who at twenty-nine seems destined to be an old maid. It is a tender, moving story, revealing sympathetically the drabness with which love enters the life of the lonely and unbeautiful, and honest to the point of showing its hero's momentary wavering when he is reminded of the girl's homeliness.
Marty, The Bachelor Party, too, is a story of loneliness and love, this time of the loneliness of marriage and of the attempt to find that romantic-sexual excitement which the routine of lower middle-class existence can so easily destroy in the marriage itself. Chayefsky shows a young accountant's quest for excitement, setting it against a background of empty frustration personified by the other members of the bachelor party. Frightened by the thought of bringing up his unborn child on his small salary, troubled by a persistent but dimly understood longing for the body of some woman other than his wife, Charlie takes part in the bachelor party with sullen aggressiveness at first. Soon, inflamed by drink and the seeming erotic freedom of the Bachelor's unfettered life, he is loudly shouting that he wants to "find some women!" But a sodden tour of the city is unsuccessful ending in a bar graced only by one battered veteran of the city's streets. In his own frustration and in the loneliness of the Bachelor, Charlie recognizes the quiet virtues of his own marriage; and he returns to his wife with a new love and understanding.
One other play, The Mother, has this quality of hyperordinariness. The Mother is the story of a recently widowed woman of sixty-six who is determined to return to her old job as a seam-stress in the garment industry in order to combat the loneliness of her new life. She is handicapped, however, by her aged ineptitude—it has been forty years since her last employment—and by the opposition of her daughter, a determined martyr out to protect her mother from the world even though her protection increases the misery of the old lady's remaining years. When, having been given a chance to show her skill, she mistakenly sews only left-hand sleeves, and is fired, the Mother is ready to concede defeat and to move in with her overly possessive daughter. But a single night reaffirms her determination to work, the only kind of life she has ever known, and to live out her last years in her own home, surrounded by her own possessions. The daughter, finally understanding her mother's determination, accepts it and, for the first time, directs her solicitude toward her own family.
Marty, The Bachelor Party, and The Mother are marked by a subdued realism of character and event that gives them the immediacy of ordinary, day-to-day existence. The problems that the characters face are the problems most of us face, cannot escape facing, and Chayefsky's characters come to them no better or worse equipped for a solution than do we. Compared with these three plays, Printer's Measure and The Big Deal suffer from an excess of theatricalism and contrived action—but only in terms of Chayefsky's own work, let me emphasize. Beside such landmarks of the realistic drama as Street Scene or The Silver Cord, Printer's Measure and The Big Deal are quiet indeed. Nevertheless, both plays smack of the unusual, not in relation to the events of literature, perhaps, but in relation to the ordinary events of life.
The Big Deal tells the story of Joe Manx, once a successful builder of houses, who for fifteen years as a bankrupt has been existing on big dreams and big talk. Joe is a theatrically effective figure as, scorning a humble, low-paying job, he goes from place to place trying to wangle the four thousand dollars that will enable him to get started on the unsound project that is his big deal. He is, in fact, a bit too theatrically effective, a bit too much the distillation of all such useless dreamers, so that when he finally goes to the daughter who has been supporting him and Page 201 | Top of Articleattempts to borrow her carefully saved five thousand dollars, we feel that the action is unfolding rather too patly. This is true also when she offers him the money without a moment's hesitation, and when he refuses it and decides then and there to take the humble job. The play is highly effective as theater, and it is quite possible that intelligent directing and acting could lessen the contrived effect; but The Big Deal does not have the simple, basic life rhythm that marks the action of Marty and the other two plays.
To a lesser extent, this is also true of Printer's Measure, the story of a proud old compositor faced by the challenge of a Linotype machine. In his picture of the old-fashioned craftsman with his fierce artistic integrity, Chayefsky has again come up with a type character, with the result that the action unfolds almost too logically to the moment when the compositor takes a sledge hammer and gives vent to his pent-up resentment by smashing the Linotype machine to bits. Dramatic, exciting—but shallow stuff compared to the deep, slow-moving emotions of Marty, The Bachelor Party, and The Mother.
The sixth play in the volume, Holiday Song, is written in a somewhat different vein. The story of an elderly Jewish cantor who temporarily loses his faith in God, it depends upon extraordinary coincidence (albeit based on a true occurrence) and a mysterious, angelic figure to return its central figure to belief. The play, as Chayefsky himself points out, is essentially a comedy—gentle, wistful comedy—probing Jewish traditions and temperament with kindly irony and revealing that the author's talents are not limited to a single approach to drama.
All six plays were highly successful on the television screen. Marty, of course, was made into a motion picture, one of the year's most distinguished. The Mother has, I believe, been sold to Hollywood. But a motion-picture version of a television play, no matter how faithfully it may attempt to follow the original, is bound to be a different work of art. Unless these plays also exist as literature, apart and distinct from the unique screening that gave them life, their artistic existence has been disappointingly ephemeral. I think that it can be demonstrated that they do exist as literature—and this in spite of the fact that the author himself is on record as stating "I do not write literature; I write drama, and drama depends entirely on how it is played." It is to this demonstration that I now turn.
In a thoughtful and provocative essay published some years ago, Professor Erwin Panofsky argued that the motion-picture script is subject to what he called the principle of coexpressibility; that is, unlike theater drama, which can express itself by words ("speech") "free and independent of anything that may happen in visible space," the motion-picture script exists only as an incomplete part of the visual movement, which is the heart of the finished production, the words alone leaving us either bored or embarrassed. Thus, he claims, good movie scripts seldom make good reading and usually go unpublished.
This does not necessarily hold true for good television scripts. The very limitations of live television force the playwright to pay more than lip service to the spoken word; at the same time, these limitations result in a kind of compressed visual action that can be effectively recreated in the playwright's expository inserts between the stretches of dialogue. Although the directions in the actual shooting script of a television play may, because of their strange format, offer a block to the imagination of the average reader, the more literary passages found in the final published version do not. These passages plus the dialogue result in a dramatic form that has not only a verbal magic rarely found in the motion-picture script but also a coexpressiveness unusual in the published drama. Thus, like the plays of J. M. Barrie, those of Paddy Chayefsky make extremely happy reading. For, whether he is fully aware of it or not, Chayefsky has clearly prepared his texts with the reader in mind, not only the would-be television playwright, but the average lover of published drama. If by literature one means a significant form of writing capable of existing in time independent of any ephemeral, nonliterary phenomena that might originally have accompanied it; then, Chayefsky has, in fact, been writing literature at the same time that he has been writing what he describes as drama.
Chayefsky's descriptive passages go beyond the exigencies of mere production. In Holiday Song, Sternberger, the elderly cantor who has lost his faith in God, is pictured as "a gentle little man in his fifties—a scholar, generally confused by the outside world. His lean, sensitive face is gaunt with inner pain." We are told that his eyes are "deep" and "pained" and "wide with some unknown fear." Here is visibility, clear and revealing, yet not so detailed as to destroy the Page 202 | Top of Articlenecessity of the reader's own imaginative creation, that positive act which is one of the chief rewards of reading a play. This same quality characterizes Chayefsky's description of physical action which, by relying upon selected rather than exhaustive detail, encourages the reader to complete the picture. Holiday Song opens on Naomi, the cantor's niece, ironing, "nearsighted and intense." When she receives a visitor, she sits down "and straightens her skirt"; when she tries excitedly to tidy herself up for the appearance of a prospective husband, we are told
She notices the kitchen towel lying on the table, picks it up, stuffs it into her apron. Then she realizes the apron is no costume in which to greet Brother George from Cleveland, hurriedly takes it off, looks nervously around for some place to put it, finally throws it into the grandfather's clock.
With such descriptive passages, Chayefsky makes us visualize the action of his drama. With such unobjective comments as the faintly ironic "Brother George," he sustains and clarifies the tone of the dialogue, thus giving the reading text the tonal direction that would come in production from the attitudes of the actors. When it appears that Naomi has found herself a husband, she reveals her excitement by starting to hum a Jewish wedding tune. Then, writes Chayefsky, "Slowly the wedding dance swells within her" and she begins to dance. The metaphorical "swells" is surely as revealing of Naomi's emotion and of Chayefsky's attitude toward it as any visual indication could be, and the whole paragraph of description becomes not simply a stage direction, a substitute for action, and therefore essentially an unorganic part of the play, but rather an integral part of the unity of the drama as literature.
Chayefsky's full stage directions, in other words, are essentially literary, conceived as organic parts of the experience of reading the play and written in a style harmonizing with the effect of the dialogue, simple, direct, and usually very effective. Occasionally, they become obtrusive, as when he tells us parenthetically that Cantor Sternberger's living room is plain because "(Cantors don't make very much money.)" Or when, after the old aunt in Marty has described for the Mother the loneliness of finding one's children all married, he writes "The aunt has hit home." But, in general the passages, simply and pungently written in the idiom of the play itself, and seldom technical in nature, give the reader a sense of words and movement that only the most experienced, imaginative reader can get from the conventional dramatic text.
Even without this extra dimension, Chayefsky's plays could stand independent of the picture on the television screen. Unlike the motion picture with its vast, almost endless visual scope, the television drama is limited by the physical restrictions of current studios, by relatively small budgets, by, as the talented TV writer is well aware, the literal smallness of the televised image. As a result, the television play must perforce have something of the verbal distinction of the legitimate drama, its dialogue the central element, dominating the action rather than being dominated by it. And the real strength of Chayefsky's plays lies in words. I cannot think of any modern writer, whatever his medium, who better captures the essence of ordinary speech. By ordinary, I mean the everyday conversation of lower middle-or upper lower-class people, or whatever one wishes to call the vast army of little men and women who are America. Chayefsky's verbal stronghold, of course, is New York City and its environs (except in The Big Deal), and his dialogue normally reflects the idiosyncracies of this area. But his dialogue is so natural, so unforced and lacking in artificiality that it transcends its peculiarities and speaks to every one willing to listen.
Two qualities seem to me to characterize his handling of dialogue. First, he writes speech, not dialect. There is none of the heightening, none of the exaggeration and wrenching of words for special effect which mark so many efforts to capture the flavor of ordinary talk. This is not to say that Chayefsky's language is a literal reproduction, something taken from a tape. Chayefsky is too much the artist to fall into that old naturalistic trap. His language sounds like ordinary speech; it does not reproduce it. And his characters only seem to have the inarticulateness of ordinary men, actually speaking with the tongues of poets. His dialogue, in other words, is truly a work of art, superior, from the point of view of readability, even to such a master of realistic speech as James Farrell.
The other quality is harder to define, being in part the result of Chayefsky's firm grasp of characterization. It is a poetic quality, one revealing rich strata of subsurface meaning in lines of seemingly simple dialogue. It recalls the buried tensions of Hemingway, though here the vibrations are quieter, less disturbing. Take, for example, Page 203 | Top of Articlethe revelation of loneliness in Marty. The play abounds in passages of quiet anguish, in which banal conversation is made vivid by the emptiness it seeks to cover. In the following bit of dialogue, two desperate men, each in his thirties and each monumentally unpopular with the girls, face the prospect of another lonely Saturday night:
Angie: Well, what do you feel like doing tonight?
Marty: I don't know, Angie. What do you feel like doing?
Angie: Well, we oughtta do something. It's Saturday night. I don't wanna go bowling like last Saturday. How about calling up that big girl we picked up inna movies about a month ago in the RKO Chester?
Marty: (Not very interested) Which one was that?
Angie: That big girl that was sitting in front of us with the skinny friend.
Marty: Oh, yeah.
Angie: We took them home alla way out in Brooklyn. Her name was Mary Feeney. What do you say? You think I oughtta give her a ring? I'll take the skinny one.
Marty: It's five o'clock already, Angie. She's probably got a date by now.
Angie: Well, let's call her up. What can we lose?
Marty: I didn't like her, Angie. I don't feel like calling her up.
Angie: Well, what do you feel like doing tonight?
Marty: I don't know. What do you feel like doing?
And the painful comedy continues, as it has night after night, the ineffable loneliness of the two young men crying out from under the seeming inanity of their talk.
The answer to the first of the two questions asked earlier—can television drama validly be classed as literature?—would seem, then, to be yes, it can. Chayefsky's plays in their published form not only retain something of the visual dimension of dramatic production but have, as well, the verbal richness of the legitimate drama. Let us turn now to the second question posed, and seek to determine the extent to which the demands of the TV medium affect literary excellence of these plays.
Perhaps most interesting from a technical point of view are the structural problems that television production presents to an author. He is asked to do in less than sixty minutes a dramatic job comparable in many respects to that done by the legitimate dramatist in double the time. Chayefsky has been only partially successful in this difficult task of dramatic compression. In many ways, his plays are unusual in the skill with which the story has been fitted to the truncated hour normally devoted to full-length television drama. Shocking in the half-hour playlet, and still noticeable in the longer play, has been the television playwright's failure to proportion his drama successfully within the time limits of his medium. The result of this failure has been a rash of plays which are all exposition, plays in which the resolution, if it occurs at all, is hasty and startling in its inappropriateness. Chayefsky's dramas, on the other hand, indicate an awareness of the problems posed by the brevity of even the hour show; and they have a welcome architechtonic, getting under way easily and without dragging, developing their conflicts at some length, and resolving these conflicts with a certain care and thoroughness.
To perform this miracle, however, Chayefsky generally relies upon a second plot to act as a catalyst, using this subplot to bring the main conflict to a head. At least once, in Printer's Measure, this subplot is handled both awkwardly and obviously, for the introduction of the death of the narrator's father as a means of having the narrator desert old Mr. Healy, the compositor, is unconvincing. The shift in emphasis, at least temporarily, from Mr. Healy to the boy is unfortunate, since the author does not have time to develop the boy's story to the point where it becomes an organic part of the whole. This lack of unity is felt again, if to a lesser extent, in Marty, where the story of Marty's embittered old aunt seems proportionately long for its function of turning Marty's mother against the girl. To create this hurdle for Marty's love to overcome, Chayefsky is forced to introduce the distinct and rather unrelated troubles of the aunt and of her daughter and son-in-law.
Chayefsky handles the subplot much more effectively in the other plays, especially in The Big Deal and The Mother. He introduces it early and, particularly in The Mother, integrates it with the main action. His handling of the subplot is aided (as, to some extent in all the plays) by the fluidity of his medium, the photographic technique of fading from one scene to the next enabling Page 204 | Top of Articlethe author to make the effortless transitions characteristic of Elizabethan drama.
One important result of this fluidity is the television playwright's freedom to go to his characters instead of being forced to assemble them on some few, static sets. Television does not, at present at least, offer the possibilities of the motion picture. But, by comparison with the limitations of the modern stage, the TV dramatist is in a position to poke his nose hither and yon with relative freedom. Because of this freedom, Chayefsky's plays have an intimate quality seldom if ever found in the legitimate drama. They reveal the ordinary with a loving attention to the little things of life. The mobile camera with its fondness for close-up scrutiny, emphasizes the familiar dialogue accompanying the ordinary actions of life. In this way, we get a kind of verbal close-up together with a visual one.
But Chayefsky's attention to the patterns of everyday existence does not result in quite so deep a probing of the human consciousness as he seems to think. He claims, in his analysis of Marty, to have "ventured lightly" into such things as the Oedipal relationship, reversion to adolescence, latent homosexuality. However much these themes may have been present in his mind when he was writing Marty, they do not seem to me to be embodied in the text of the play (as distinct from the motion picture); that is to say, they are not there in any recognizable form, for they cannot be proved by the play, any more than Hamlet's so-called Oedipus complex can be proved by the text of Shakespeare's tragedy. Marty concerns an outcast whose particular form of ostracism is adequately explained by his appearance and by the defensive mechanism he has created for it. The play examines the plight of this outcast tenderly and thoughtfully, showing his painful enfetterment in the chains of social custom and his eventual but somewhat reluctant escape. It does not go much deeper. In spite of the intimate view given us of Marty, we know him incompletely, superficially, never being favored with any flashes of truly profound insight.
This failure may come in part from the temporal limitations of television, since probing is a delicate, time-consuming task. It also stems from Chayefsky's avowed belief that television should avoid the greater tensions of traditional drama, for "there is more exciting drama in the reasons why a man gets married than in why he murders someone." I suspect that this is not necessarily true. It is certainly doubtful, dramatically speaking, that all the minor crises in a man's life will reveal his inner self with the clarity that a single, unusual, soul-shattering event is capable of doing. Chayefsky, who is neither accurate nor wise in his criticism of the legitimate stage, draws a misleading comparison between the subdued realism of his own plays and the more flamboyant realism of the theater. If it is true that the theater cannot capture the intimate, ordinary quality of Chayefsky's plays, it is also true that he has not, at this writing, captured the penetrating quality of the best legitimate drama.
But what Chayefsky does he does well, revealing the patterns of everyday life not only with technical skill but with true understanding of their significance. For his attention to routine detail is no mere naturalistic decoration; it is the result of his awareness that such seemingly little things are the essence of ordinary existence. Whether it is the frustrating experience of being interrupted at a moment of petty triumph, as in The Big Deal when the wife tries to tell her husband of their daughter's engagement, or the failure to pick up a girl in a cheap dance hall, as in Marty, Chayefsky paints his everyday crises with loving care, understanding and making us understand that they are ordinary only in the sense that they occur as part of the normal pattern of life.
And Chayefsky sketches these crises not without humor, a humor ranging from the obvious, visual comedy of The Bachelor Party to the tear-provoking smiles of The Mother. Both The Bachelor Party and Holiday Song are funny, the former with its scenes of drunken revelry, the latter with its old-world Jewish flavor and its rather typed characters. Through all the plays, there runs a strain of kindly irony, seen in such episodes as Naomi's request that her uncle put off losing his faith for two weeks so that the loss won't inconvenience her search for a husband; the hilarious confession of the proud possessor of a hundred and eighty-nine dollar suit of imported Egyptian fabric that the suit is unbearably hot ("I'll be honest with you. I don't know how they manage in Egypt with it"); or the reply of one old lady to another who has accused her own son of wishing to "cast his mother from his house" … "Catherine, don't make an opera outta this." Finally, there is the admixture of tragedy and comedy with its gentle Chaplinesque appeal, which characterizes Marty and The Mother Page 205 | Top of Articleespecially: Marty in the phone booth attempting to play the gallant; Marty trying with clumsy desperation to kiss the first girl who has ever liked him; and, perhaps the most poignant touch of all, but one still essentially comic rather than tragic, the bundle of sleeves, all for the left arm, that the Mother has sewn in her desperate attempt to hold her new job.
It would seem from what has been said that the medium of television offers mixed blessings to the serious writer. If the brevity of the performance creates structural problems sometimes difficult of solution, and limits the kind of psychological analysis feasible, the fluidity of the camera makes possible a unique intimacy which can be exploited with sympathetic understanding and quiet humor. But television exerts another form of control over the dramatist, this one thematic rather than technical, which would seem to place almost insuperable obstacles on the road to literary excellence. For television, as Paddy Chayefsky is painfully aware, is at present an advertising rather than an entertainment medium, with the result that the dramatist is prevented from writing about "almost anything that relates to adult reality." Such subjects as adultery, abortion, and the social values of our times are out, protests Chayefsky; and so the serious television writer, prevented from expanding "in breadth," must turn to "minutely detailed studies of small moments of life." Unfortunately, even these suffer from advertising necessity, as Chayefsky's own plays reveal.
For all their wonderful insight, Chayefsky's dramas do not ring completely true. Seemingly frankly realistic, they actually leave one too much aware of the pathos of life, too little aware of the tragedy. This impression is partly the result of the plays' having happy endings, at least in the sense that the people involved come to accept, more or less gracefully, the conditions in their lives against which they have been rebelling. Cantor Sternberger finds his faith; Mr. Healy, the compositor, accepts his lot, whatever particular interpretation one may attach to the ending of the play; Joe Manx takes the job as building inspector; Marty decides in favor of his homely girl; the Mother continues the good fight, as her daughter accepts the inevitable; Charlie returns to his wife unsullied and content—saved, as someone has remarked of Scott Fitzgerald's heroines, after hanging over the cliff.
Adding still more sugar-coating to the bitter pill of existence is the essential goodness of Chayefsky's characters. The people of his drama are fundamentally decent and, once we get to know them, likable in spite of some annoying surface traits. Thus, when the chips are down, Joe Manx in The Big Deal is capable of self-sacrifice; he cannot bring himself to take his daughter's savings. And the meddling aunt in Marty is a long way from being vicious; she is simply a lonely, deserted old woman with a crusty disposition. Similarly, the Bachelor in The Bachelor Party turns out to be a tired young man trying to fill up the corners of his loneliness with desperate revelry, not a small time Iago attempting to lead his married friends astray. In the same way, the selfish daughter in The Mother is finally capable of real affection.
Chayefsky's people are convincing enough as individuals. No one character is too good to be true, nor is the revelation of goodness under a harsh exterior unbelievable in any single instance. It is simply that it happens too often. Older ideas concerning original sin are not fashionable today, and we are lectured by those who should know to the effect that man is never bad, merely maladjusted. Nevertheless, individual experience teaches us that the world contains a fair share of people who are mean and vicious, wherever these traits may come from. And a world in which such people never appear, no matter how faithfully it presents appearances or examines the people who do inhabit it, is not a wholly true one.
That this saccharine quality does not reflect Chayefsky's own outlook on life, but comes from the necessities of his medium we may be sure. Indeed, his essays make it clear that he is uncomfortable in his bed, Procrustean rather than of his own making. But perhaps it is not altogether accurate to blame television alone for this sweetness; a wiser judgment might be inclined to view the fault as one rising out of the not infrequent inability of American culture to accept reality. Certainly American realistic literature, notably the drama, has seldom shown the honesty of the best European writing. In the field of the motion picture, this contrast is even more obvious. Thus, it would seem to be faintly un-American to fail to cater to the romantic immaturity that is the mark of a home-grown audience. And it would seem also to be rather unfair to blame the least pretentious of our artistic media for attitudes that, if it still panders to them, it at least did nothing to create.
Nevertheless, if television is to fulfill the great promise Paddy Chayefsky sees in store for it; if it is indeed to become the basic theater of our century, it will do well to face up to the harsh truth of life. To recognize that man can be mean and vicious and to honor him in spite of this requires infinite compassion and comprehension. Paddy Chayefsky appears to be a young man who has these attributes and, in addition, the literary skills to go with them. Perhaps this talented writer will one day be able to force television to discard the pathetic for the strange mixture of ugliness and beauty, evil and good, that is human existence. If he does, it will not be long before television will be producing a truly vital, powerful literature of its own.
Source: Frank W. Wadsworth, "The TV Plays of Paddy Chayefsky," in Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 10, No. 2, Winter 1955, pp. 109-24.
Bird, J. B., "Paddy Chayefsky," in Museum of Broadcast Communications, http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/C/htmlC/chayefskypa/chayefskypa.htm (accessed on August 1, 2008).
Chayefsky, Paddy, Marty, in The Collected Works of Paddy Chayefsky: The Television Plays, Applause Books, 1995, pp. 137-82.
———, "Marty: Two Choices of Material," in The Collected Works of Paddy Chayefsky: The Television Plays, Applause Books, 1995, p. 187.
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Holloway, Ronald, Review of Marty, in Variety, March 23, 1955.
Knight, Arthur, "If You Can't Lick 'Em, Join 'Em," in Saturday Review, March 26, 1955, p. 25.
McCarten, John, "Up From TV," in the New Yorker, April 23, 1955, p. 133.
"The New Pictures," in Time, April 18, 1955, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,866248-1,00.html (accessed August 1, 2008).
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Eco, Umberto, On Ugliness, translated by Alastair McEwen, Rizzoli Press, 2007.
Eco is one of the most distinguished fiction writers and critics of the late twentieth century. His book-length study of the history of ugliness points out just how intangible society's likes and dislikes are.
Freeman, Joshua, Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II, New Press, 2001.
Freeman's look at the people who populate Chayefsky's teleplay starts around the same time as Marty and extends to the current day.
Odets, Clifford, Waiting for Lefty and Other Plays, Grove Press, 1994.
Though playwright Clifford Odets's characters were more concerned with politics than romance, his plays took place in the same social setting as Marty, and his style has been compared to Chayefsky's. The title play in this collection, Odets's 1935 drama Waiting For Lefty, taps into the same bittersweet hopefulness that attracted audiences to Marty.
Wilk, Max, The Golden Age of Television: Notes from the Survivors, Truck Press, 1999.
Wilk is able to recreate the environment in which Marty came into being, giving readers a sense of the freedom and creativity that flowed in television's early days.