Legendary Hollywood Wordsmith Robert Towne Dies at 89


The famed wordsmith of Hollywood, Robert Towne, who breathed life into revered films such as “Shampoo,” “The Last Detail,” and the celebrated “Chinatown”, has exited the stage for the final time, passing away at 89.

Towne peacefully concluded his earthly sojourn within the comforting embrace of his family at his abode nestled within the heart of Los Angeles. His publicist Carri McClure, while confirming his demise, chose not to shed light on the cause of his passing.

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Over time, Hollywood became known for expressing a somewhat cynical sentiment about the relevance of the writer. Yet Towne managed to defy this stereotype, garnering an admiration and respect akin to the celebrated actors and directors he collaborated with. His close bonds with iconic stars of the 60s and 70s, most notably Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, granted him the opportunity to either write or co-write some of the era’s most distinguished films. Towne’s unparalleled vision of Los Angeles, woven intricately into his scripts, placed him in the rare pantheon of “auteur” screenwriters.

In an industry famed for its glamour, Hollywood was a conundrum of dreams and dashed hopes, or as Towne himself once quipped, “a place of last resort” where people pursued their dreams only to be “forever disappointed.”

Easily recognized by his high forehead and luxuriant beard, Towne’s remarkable contribution to film was rewarded with an Oscar for his work on “Chinatown”. Three additional Oscar nominations added to his cap’s feathers, followed by a lifetime achievement award from the Writers Guild of America earned in 1997.

Prior to his alluring success on the silver screen, Towne churned out work for television, writing for shows like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” and “The Lloyd Bridges Show” and producing movies for “B” producer Roger Corman. Serendipitously, it was through his psychiatrist that he met Beatty who later enlisted Towne to refine the script of “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Although uncredited for his work on “Bonnie and Clyde,” Towne’s ghostwriting prowess quickly found recognition within the industry. His wizardry worked like a charm on films such as “The Godfather,” “The Parallax View,” and “Heaven Can Wait,” earning him the reputation of a reliable “relief pitcher.”

His indelible mark was etched in cinema history with his credited work on Nicholson’s “The Last Detail” and Beatty’s “Shampoo,” as well as the iconic “Chinatown,” a riveting thriller set during the Great Depression. Various cinematic studies have regularly returned to the masterfully crafted script, delving into its timeless tale of perilous corruption and tragedy.

Despite Towne’s unique hallmark on “Chinatown”, the process of its creation was indeed a collaboration. He acknowledged the indispensable contribution of director Roman Polanski in revising and tightening the narrative, admitting to fierce debates over the film’s hauntingly despairing ending.

As Towne’s star began to wane amidst the rise in studio power, his ventures into directing yielded mixed results. His association with more commercial ventures like “Days of Thunder” and the “Mission: Impossible” movies particularly stood out.

Like the narratives he crafted, Towne’s life too had its fair share of symbolic significance. His journey from being named Robert Bertram Schwartz to becoming the venerated Robert Towne, his youthful days spent working on a tuna boat, and the inseparable bond he perceived between writing and fishing – all formed part of the rich tapestry that was his life.

And so, as the curtains descend on his journey, the echoes of his industrious writing craft still reverberate within the hallowed halls of Hollywood, forever immortalizing his indomitable spirit within the annals of cinematic history.