Film producerHoward Gottfried

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A lawyer, Gottfried decided to take a job — at United Artists, where he was assigned as a producer to oversee several TV series: Gilligan’s Island, The Patty Duke Show, and later the Ed Sullivan Show. And then he met writer Paddy Chayeksky, who Gottfried later described as “the most successful graduate of television’s slice of life school of naturalism.” Gottfried and Chayeksky “just clicked,” said his wife, Mary Lynn Gottfried. “They saw each other every day. Paddy would write. Howard would read what he wrote. And then they’d go to Carnegie Deli and talk about what it all meant.” Their first result, The Hospital (1971), led to Chayeksky’s second Academy Award (Best Original Screenplay; his first was for 1955’s Marty). Gottfried brought in the star, George C. Scott — who he had met when Gottfried was still a practicing attorney …and handled the actor’s divorce. In 1980, Gottfried and Chayeksky worked on Altered States — Gottfried brought in that film’s star, William Hurt, after running into the actor on an elevator, and thinking he looked like an actor who might work well in the role (he was, and he was). Gottfried also produced films without Chayeksky, such as Body Double (1984), The Men’s Club (1986), and Torch Song Trilogy (1988). “Everyone just loved him,” said Gottfried’s son-in-law, Brian Weinstein. “He was a writer’s partner. He had an artist’s flair and just loved to tell different stories.”

Peter Finch rants as Howard Beale. Click to see larger.

Gottfried and Chayeksky are both best known for their biggest hit together: 1976’s Network, a scathing satire which explored the role of network TV news in society. The film centers on the struggling “UBS” network’s news anchor, Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch, pictured; the character’s first name was Chayefsky’s homage to Gottfried). After being told he’s being fired, Beale flips out on the air — and promises to commit suicide on live TV. The show’s ratings soar, and network execs cancel his firing and encourage “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves” to keep ranting on his show. Beale’s angry rant, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” catches on with viewers (both the fictional viewers of UBS, and by Network film-goers), but he’s still unstable, and his ratings drop …so the network execs have him assassinated on live TV. The film closes with a voiceover telling the audience that Beale was thus “the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.” Ironically, Peter Finch died months later, and was the first actor to ever receive a posthumous Oscar for Best Actor; the film also won three other Academy Awards, including Chayefsky’s Best Original Screenplay. Chayefsky died from cancer in 1981, at 58. Gottfried suffered a stroke and died December 8, at 94.

Author’s Note: Network is available on DVD from Amazon.

From This is True for 10 December 2017