‘NETWORK’: Did Peter Finch’s Powerful and Prophetic 1976 Performance Get Him Killed in 1977?

As Howard Beale, Peter Finch delivers one of the
most prescient and powerful portrayals of all time

State of the Nation

If ever there was a conspiracy theory it is the one that postulates that Peter Finch, also known as the now world-famous Howard Beale from the academy award-winning movie NETWORK, was murdered  by way of a ‘heart attack’ while he was on a promotional tour of the same film.  After all, just how many times have we seen the very famous and/or quite important people getting killed or framed in fancy hotels in places like LA or NYC?!  (The official record has it that Finch “suffered a heart attack in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel”.)

As follows:

“At the time of Finch’s death, he was doing a promotional tour for the 1976 film Network in which he played the television anchorman Howard Beale who develops messianic pretensions.”

“After suffering a heart attack in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Finch died on 14 January 1977, at the age of 60; he is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.”
(Source: Peter Finch)

Only by watching the following video can anyone apprehend the raw visceral power that Peter Finch put into the character of Howard Beale.  Clearly, just as George C. Scott was destined to play George S. Patton, and Ben Kingsley was meant to portray Mahatma Gandhi, only Finch could do any justice to the sheer consternation and angst of anchorman Beale.

VIDEO:  Peter Finch’s ‘Mad As Hell’ Scene From The Movie NETWORK

Were the spirit of Howard Beale to have entered the average American in 1976, these United States of America would be entering the year 2016 in a completely different context.  The TPTB certainly knew that back then and must have reeled in horror at how a movie like NETWORK ever even made it to the big screen.  As impressive and unparalleled as Finch’s “impassioned diatribe” (aka scathing social commentary) really was and is, it really is a wonder that it ever made it to enough theaters that it won 4 Academy Awards.  Perhaps TPTB at the time underestimated the impact that Howard Beale would have … right up to this very day and beyond!  Perhaps Finch took his messianic role a little too seriously.  Nonetheless, what cannot be ignored is the fact that the films ends with the narrator stating:

“This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.”   

And, yes, Howard Beale was assassinated in the film by TPTB for an assortment of perceived crimes he committed against the corporate tyranny of his day.    

What is particularly noteworthy about this exceedingly poignant scene is that anyone alive in 2015 would swear that he was talking about today.  Truly, that he delivered this “monologue of the decade” for audiences in 1976 — 40 years ago — is quite alarming.  A transcript of his ‘stream of consciousness’ is provided in order to grasp the sheer profundity of his revelations and admonitions.

By the way, it’s well worth viewing the entire 3 and 1/2 minute scene shown on the YouTube video below.

Classic Speech from a Film Classic

What follows is the word-for-word transcript from Paddy Chayefsky screenplay.  It is interesting that Chayefsky is the only screenwriter in history “to have won three solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay”.  He was well known for his no-nonsense and stark realism.  In other words, he gets it like VERY few people ever did back then.

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’

Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’

So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”  I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell — “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”


Screenshot from the Peter Finch Wikipedia page.

Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 12.15.06 PM


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