Howard Gottfried, 94, Producer of ‘Network,’ Is Dead


Mr. Chayefsky, who had already balked at an offer for Columbia Pictures to release “Network,” was meeting with United Artists about the film when he took umbrage with a business affairs executive who told him he thought the Howard Beale character didn’t work.

Mr. Chayefsky, in frustration, stormed out of the meeting, leaving Mr. Gottfried alone with the executive.

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Peter Finch played the unhinged anchorman Howard Beale in the 1976 film “Network,” written by Paddy Chayefsky and produced by Howard Gottfried, whose first name Mr. Chayefsky borrowed for the character.

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United Artists

As Mr. Gottfried recalled the ensuing scene in a 2012 interview: “I’m still there and I look at him. I knew the guy well. I said, ‘You dumb son of a bitch.’ Paddy really was an easy guy, but it was coming from the wrong place.”

Within a few weeks, Mr. Gottfried had made a deal for “Network” to be released as a co-production of United Artists and MGM.

Howard Kenneth Gottfried was born on Nov. 13, 1923, in Manhattan, to Louis and Fanny Gottfried, and raised in the Bronx. His father was a furrier, his mother a homemaker. After serving in the Army during World War II and earning his law degree at New York University, he worked as a producer of Off Broadway theater.

He worked in Los Angeles at United Artists Television, the studio that produced “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Fugitive,” before returning to New York, where he worked for Ed Sullivan’s production company.

The author Noel Behn introduced him to Mr. Chayefsky, the celebrated film, theater and TV writer who had won an Academy Award for the 1955 film adaptation of his teleplay “Marty.” Mr. Chayefsky had recently been pushed off the 1969 movie musical “Paint Your Wagon,” having clashed with its lyricist, Alan Jay Lerner, and was in search of new projects.

Mr. Gottfried helped Mr. Chayefsky secure a deal at CBS for a TV pilot that would ultimately go unproduced: “The Imposters,” a socially conscious series about an aging comic actor and a disillusioned television executive.

When the networks were not interested in their next project, a proposed slice-of-life series set in a New York hospital, Mr. Gottfried got it set up as the motion picture “The Hospital,” starring George C. Scott as its existentially frustrated chief of medicine. The film, directed by Arthur Hiller, won Mr. Chayefsky his second screenwriting Oscar.

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Mr. Gottfried, left, with his frequent collaborator Paddy Chayefsky in 1971.

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Gottfried family

Mr. Gottfried also oversaw the roughly two-year research and writing period during which Mr. Chayefsky created “Network,” his magnum opus, drawn from visits to the newsrooms of ABC, CBS and NBC and the author’s own manifold fears of rampant corporate integration, social alienation, domestic terrorism and the power of TV.

In an affectionate gesture that illustrated his dyspeptic sense of humor, Mr. Chayefsky named his anchorman character — who memorably declares in an on-air outburst, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” — Howard, for Mr. Gottfried. (The name Beale came from Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, the eccentric socialites seen in the 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens.”)

“Network,” directed by Sidney Lumet, won four Academy Awards, including another screenwriting trophy for Mr. Chayefsky, as well as acting honors for Faye Dunaway, Beatrice Straight and Mr. Finch, who died two months before the Oscar ceremony.

But on their next film collaboration, the metaphysical science-fiction thriller “Altered States,” Mr. Gottfried could not spare Mr. Chayefsky from the wrath of its director, Ken Russell, who had been brought into the production to replace Arthur Penn.

When Mr. Russell had Mr. Chayefsky ejected from the set for his constant interference, Mr. Chayefsky demanded that Mr. Gottfried fire Mr. Russell. Mr. Gottfried reminded Mr. Chayefsky that they had already dispensed with a previous director and that, with time running short, the only person who could replace Mr. Russell was probably Mr. Chayefsky himself.

As Mr. Gottfried recalled his interaction with Mr. Chayefsky: “He said, ‘Well, I can’t do that. I won’t do that. And if you’re not going to do that, I’m going to have to leave the movie.’ ” The two never worked together again. Mr. Chayefsky died in 1981.

Mr. Gottfried produced other films, including the 1988 adaptation of Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” and “Suburban Commando,” a 1991 comedy starring the wrestler Hulk Hogan.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by their daughters, Elizabeth Colling and Norah Weinstein, and four grandchildren.

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