American screenwriter, director and occasional actor Robert Towne is best known for his Oscar winning original screenplay of Roman Polanski's “Chinatown” (1974), from which he also collected a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, a Writers Guild of America Award and an Edgar Allan Poe Award. Making his screenwriting debut in Roger Corman's “Last Woman on Earth” (1960), which he starred in, he received an Academy Award nomination for his adaptation of Daryl Ponicsan's “The Last Detail” (1973, directed by Hal Ashby) and won the award a year later for the aforementioned movie. Towne picked up his next Oscar nominations for his writing jobs on Ashby's “Shampoo” (1975) and Hugh Hudson's “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984). Towne's other writing credits include Tony Scott's “Days of Thunder” (1990), Sydney Pollack's “The Firm” (1993), Glenn Gordon Caron's “Love Affair” (1994), Brian De Palma's “Mission Impossible” (1996) and John Woo's “Mission Impossible II” (2000). Towne is also known for doing unaccredited work on the films “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) and “Heaven Can Wait” (1978) as well as for his frequent collaboration with Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Warren Beatty. In addition to writing, Towne directed and wrote “Personal Best” (1982), “Tequila Sunrise” (1988), “Without Limits” (1998) and “Ask the Dust” (2006).
Towne has been married twice. He is the father of actress Katharine Towne (with former wife Julie Payne) and Chiara Towne (with current wife Luisa Gaule). He is good friends with Tom Cruise.
Robert Bertram Schwartz
Childhood and Family:
Robert Bertram Schwartz, who would later be popular as Robert Towne, was born on November 23, 1934, in Los Angeles, California. His parents are of Russian and Romanian origin and changed the family name from Schwartz to Towne, which was taken from the Towne Smart Shop, a women's clothing shop his father ran. His father, Lou, later made a successful switch to real estate and moved the family to the wealthy gated community of Rolling Hills in Palos Verdes Hills, CA. While living there, Robert attended Chadwick School. He went on to attend Pomona College in Claremont, California, where he majored in literature and philosophy. It was while in college that Robert decided he wanted to become a screenwriter. While in college, he worked as a tuna fisherman. Robert has a younger brother named Roger Stewart Towne (born on April 15, 1940).
In November 1977, Robert married actress Julie Payne (born July 10, 1940), the daughter of actors John Payne and Anne Shirley. The couple had a daughter they named Katharine Payne Towne, on July 17, 1978, before divorcing. After the divorce, Robert married Luisa Gaule on October 17, 1984. Their daughter, Chiara Gaule Towne, was born on July 28, 1991.
The Last Detail
An aspiring screenwriter, Robert Towne left San Pedro for Los Angeles after graduating college. Once in L.A., he trained under acting coach Jeff Corey with upcoming actors Jack Nicholson, Sally Kellerman and Richard Chamberlain. Another student, Roger Corman, knew about Towne's writing and hired him to work on the 1960 science fiction film “Last Woman on Earth,” which Corman directed and produced. Under the pseudonym Edward Wain, Towne also made his acting debut in the film. He was reunited with “Last Woman on Earth” costars Betsy Jones-Moreland and Antony Carbone for the 1961 comedy “Creature from the Haunted Sea,” again directed by Corman. In the film, he starred as a secret agent. Over the next ten years, Towne would not take another acting job in order to focus on writing.
Towne branched out to television in 1963 when he wrote “My Daddy Can Beat Your Daddy,” an episode of the CBS series “The Lloyd Bridges Show,” which starred Jeff Bridges, Gary Lockwood and Lloyd Bridges. He also wrote the episode “A Personal Matter” (also 1963), starring Lloyd Bridges, Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel. Towne then wrote episodes for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (NBC), “Breaking Point” (ABC) and “The Outer Limits” (ABC, all 1964). Also in 1964, he wrote the screenplay for “The Tomb of Ligeia,” which was based on Edgar Allan Poe's story “Ligeia.” Directed by Roger Corman, the film marked the last of the director's series of eight Poe film adaptations. Towne returned to the big screen three years later when he served as an unaccredited script doctor for “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), which was directed by Arthur Penn and starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The movie was nominated for ten Oscars and won the awards for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Cinematography. It also won Writers Guild of America Awards in the categories of Best Written American Drama and Best Written American Original Screenplay, among other major awards and nominations. In 1968, Towne co-scripted (with Sam Peckinpah) “Villa Rides,” a movie starring Yul Brynner, Robert Mitchum and Charles Bronson.
In 1971, Towne (under the name Robert Tubin) had a small role in “The Zodiac Killer,” a film directed by Tom Hanson that was scripted by Ray Cantrell and Manny Cardoza, before landing the role of Richard on the big screen adaptation of Jeremy Larner's book “Drive, He Said.” The film was the directorial debut of his friend, Jack Nicholson, and marked the first collaboration between the two. Towne also received unaccredited writing credit on the film. The next year, he worked on “Cisco Pike,” a drama written and directed by Bill L Norton, and “The New Centurions,” which was directed by Richard Fleischer and starred George C. Scott and Stacy Keach. He also scripted one scene in the Francis Ford Coppola highly successful gangster movie “The Godfather” (1972).
Towne next wrote the screenplay of “The Last Detail” (1973), which was adapted from the novel of the same name by Daryl Ponicsan. For his work on the film, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and a Writers Guild of America for Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium. He also won a BAFTA for Best Screenplay. “The Last Detail” was directed by Hal Ashby and starred Jack Nicholson.
However, Towne did not cement his reputation as a lead screenwriter until he wrote the original screenplay for the Roman Polansk critically acclaimed drama “Chinatown” (1974), which starred Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won one in the category of Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Towne. Adding to his Oscar, Towne also nabbed a BAFTA for Best Screenplay, a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay - Motion Picture, a Writers Guild of America for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen and an Edgar Allan Poe Award in the category of Best Motion Picture. Still in 1974, Towne had unaccredited screenwriting credit for Alan J. Pakula's “The Parallax View,” which was based on the 1970 political thriller novel of the same title by Loren Singer. He also collaborated with Leonard Schrader and Paul Schrader for the script of the Sydney Pollack film “The Yakuza.”
Towne gained additional recognition when he co-wrote “Shampoo” (1975) with star Warren Beatty. The two shared an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, a Writers Guild of America Award and a National Society of Film Critics Award for their work on the film. “Shampoo” also marked Towne's reunion with director Hal Ashby.
Next up for Towne, he offered unaccredited services for the movies “The Missouri Breaks” (1976), “Orca” (1977) and the film adaptation of Harry Segall's “Heaven Can Wait” (1978), which was directed, written by and starred Warren Beatty. Towne then returned to the industry with “Personal Best” (1982), which he produced, directed and wrote. The film earned praise from critics, but was a commercially failure.
After having an unaccredited job in the comedy “Deal of the Century” (1983), Towne used the name P.H. Vazak and co-wrote (with Michael Austin) “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984), based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel “Tarzan of the Apes” (1914). The film, directed by Hugh Hudson and starring Christopher Lambert and Andie MacDowell, was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for Towne. He was also handed a Writers Guild of America nomination for his effort. He then served as an unaccredited writer on Hal Ashby's “8 Million Ways to Die” (1986), Norman Mailer's “Tough Guys Don't Dance” (1987) and Roman Polanski's “Frantic” (1988), executive produced Curtis Harrington's “The Bedroom Window” (1987) and played the supporting role of Stan in James Toback's “The Pick-up Artist” (1987) before directing Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell in the movie “Tequila Sunrise” (1988), which he also wrote. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the film performed well at the box office and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
In 1990, Towne co-wrote with Tom Cruise “Days of Thunder,” a movie directed by Tony Scott that starred Cruise, Robert Duvall and Nicole Kidman. The same year, he also scripted “The Two Jakes,” a sequel to 1974's “Chinatown.” The film, which was directed by and starred Jack Nicholson, was not a success. Towne then worked with David Rabe and David Rayfiel on the screenplay for “The Firm” (1993), adapted from the 1991 novel of the same name. The hit movie marked his second collaboration with director Sydney Pollack and actor Tom Cruise. After co-writing with Beatty “Love Affair,” which was directed by Glenn Gordon Caron, Towne was reunited with Cruise on “Mission Impossible” (1996), a commercially successful action thriller. Towne earned a Razzie in the category of Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million for his work in the film, which he shared with David Koepp and Steven Zaillian.
In 1998, Towne directed and wrote “Without Limits,” which was produced by Cruise and Paula Wagner. About the friendship between running star Steve Prefontaine (played by Billy Crudup) and his coach Bill Bowerman (played by Donald Sutherland), the film earned generally positive reviews from critics, but was a small success at the box office.
Entering the new millennium, Towne wrote the screenplay for “Mission Impossible II” (2000) and after disappearing for many years, resurfaced in 2006 with the directorial effort “Ask the Dust” (2006), which he also wrote. An adaptation of the 1939 semi autobiographical book of the same name by John Fante, the film earned negative to mixed reviews from critics. It was produced by Tom Cruise and starred Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland and Idina Menzel. Towne was nominated for the Golden St. George at the 2006 Moscow International Film Festival for the film.
Towne has signed on to write the screenplay for the upcoming film “The Thirty Nine Steps” (2011), a remake of the Don Sharp 1978 thriller movie of the same name.
Hollywood Film Festival: Hollywood Film Award, Outstanding Achievement in Screenwriting, 2002
Boston Film Festival: Film Excellence Award, 1998
Writers Guild of America: Laurel Award, Screen Writing Achievement, 1997
Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen, “Shampoo,” 1976
Academy Award: Best Writing, Original Screenplay, “Chinatown,” 1975
BAFTA: Best Screenplay, “Chinatown,” 1975
Edgar Allan Poe: Edgar, Best Motion Picture, “Chinatown,” 1975
Golden Globe: Best Screenplay - Motion Picture, “Chinatown,” 1975
National Society of Film Critics (NSFC): Best Screenplay, “Shampoo,” 1975
Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen, “Chinatown,” 1975