Robert Towne

Robert Towne
Robert Towne

Towne in 2006
Born November 23, 1934 (1934-11-23) (age 77)
Los Angeles, California
Spouse Julie Payne (m.1977)
Luisa Gaule (1984-)

Robert Towne (born Robert Bertram Schwartz;[1][2] November 23, 1934) is an American screenwriter and director. His most notable work may be his Academy Award-winning original screenplay for Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974).




Towne is the author of many notable film scripts, including Chinatown (1974), for which he received an Academy Award, plus its sequel, The Two Jakes (1990), and Oscar-nominated screenplays The Last Detail and Shampoo as well as the first two Mission Impossible films. Towne has also a "stellar reputation" in the motion-picture industry as an uncredited script doctor,[3] who has worked in such a capacity for The Godfather, Bonnie and Clyde, The Parallax View, The Rock and dozens of other Hollywood films.[4][5]

After working for years on a script of Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) he grew dissatisfied with the production and credited his dog, P.H. Vazak, with the script. Vazak became the first dog nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting, but he did not fetch the award. Towne co-wrote the film 8 Million Ways to Die using the alias David Lee Henry.[6]

Towne also wrote and directed Personal Best (1982), a fictional drama of female track-and-field athletes, and Without Limits (1998), a biopic based on the life of distance runner Steve Prefontaine. His crime story Tequila Sunrise (1988) co-starred Mel Gibson as a reformed cocaine dealer and Kurt Russell as a detective, with Michelle Pfeiffer as a woman who becomes romantically involved with both. Towne told The New York Times that Tequila Sunrise is "a movie about the use and abuse of friendship."[7]

A project Towne had long sought to bring to the screen came to fruition in 2006 with Ask the Dust, a romantic period piece set in Los Angeles based on the acclaimed novel by John Fante and starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. Towne had found the novel while researching Chinatown, looking for material that would honestly describe that particular era of Los Angeles. He became so entranced by the book that he arranged to meet with its author—himself a screenwriter—in person. "I was an unknown," Towne said. "I hadn't written anything of note." But Fante greeted the young fan with accusations like "What makes you think you're any kind of judge of my work?"[8] Ask the Dust received mixed reviews and failed at the box office.

Towne has framed several of his signature films as elaborate melodramas. He told The New York Times "I think melodrama is always a splendid occasion to entertain an audience and say things you want to say without rubbing their noses in it," he says. "With melodrama, as in dreams, you're always flirting with the disparity between appearance and reality, which is a great deal of fun. And that's also not unrelated to my perception of my life working in Hollywood, where you're always wondering, 'What does that guy really mean?'"[7]

In 2006, Towne was the subject of artist Sarah Morris's film, Robert Towne. Morris describes him as an “elliptical figure” whose career exemplifies a certain characteristic mode of working in the film industry, marked by collaboration, shared or changing roles.[9] Morris's 19,744-square-foot (1,834.3 m2) painting installation on the ceiling of the Lever House in Manhattan, commissioned by the Public Art Fund, was also titled "Robert Towne".[10]


Towne has also written for television, including an acclaimed episode of the 1962-1963 CBS anthology series The Lloyd Bridges Show entitled "My Daddy Can Beat Your Daddy," with starring roles for Jeff Bridges and Gary Lockwood.

As performer

On occasion, he has acted on screen, as in 1960's Roger Corman sci-fi film Last Woman on Earth, which Towne also wrote. He also starred in another Corman film, Creature From the Haunted Sea.

Future projects

Towne has been announced as writer-director of The 39 Steps, a 2011 remake of the 1935 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Two Jakes

Robert Towne expressed his disappointment in The Two Jakes in many interviews.[citation needed] He told writer Alex Simon "In the interest of maintaining my friendships with Jack Nicholson and Robert Evans, I’d rather not go into it, but let’s just say The Two Jakes wasn’t a pleasant experience for any of us. But, we’re all still friends, and that’s what matters most."[11]

In a November 5, 2007 interview with MTV, Jack Nicholson revealed that Towne had written the part of Gittes specifically for him. In the same interview, Nicholson also revealed that Towne had conceived Chinatown as a trilogy and that the third film was to be set in 1968 and deal in some way with Howard Hughes.[12]

Personal life

Towne’s parentage was Romanian on his mother’s side, Russian on his father’s.[13] He grew up in San Pedro, Los Angeles, the son of Helen and Lou Schwartz.[14] His father ran a ladies clothing shop called the Towne Smart Shop, and changed the family name to Towne. Lou then moved into real estate and moved his family to the affluent Rolling Hills, a gated community in Palos Verdes, where Robert attended Chadwick School. Robert has a brother Roger, who is six years younger.[1] He is married to Luisa Gaule. His former father-in-law is late actor John Payne, star of the western series, The Restless Gun. Towne's daughter (with actress Julie Payne) is Katharine Towne. He is a former father-in-law of Charlie Hunnam.

He is a graduate of Pomona College in Claremont, California.[15]


Credits as Writer-Director

Credits as Writer Only



  1. ^ a b Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind page 30, 1999 Bloomsbury edition ISBN 978-0-7475-4421-0
  2. ^ According to the State of California. California Birth Index, 1905-1995. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. Searchable at
  3. ^ McDougal, Dennis (2008) Five easy decades pp.146, 182, 416
  4. ^ Kenneth Turan, Robert Towne's Hollywood Without Heroes, New York Times (27 November 1988)
  5. ^ Nicolas Cage, DVD commentary, The Rock Criterion Collection
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b New York Times (27 November 1988)
  8. ^
  9. ^ [ "Public Art Fund"]
  10. ^ "The New York Observer"
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Lennon, Elaine: The screenplays of Robert Towne 1960-2000. Dublin Institute of Technology, 2009
  14. ^
  15. ^ "The Robert Towne Page". Retrieved April 13, 2010. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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