Robert Towne

Born - Nov 23, 1934   |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Thriller

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Robert Towne would prefer his appearance as the stick-like leading actor Edward Wain in the prententious Roger Corman post-apocalyptic effort The Last Woman on Earth (1960) be forgotten -- in addition to the film's screenplay, which was Towne's first. Despite this inauspicious beginning (and his follow-up starring appearance in Creature From the Haunted Sea [1961]), Towne appreciated the early opportunity afforded him by Corman, and remained with the producer/director to pen the screenplay for Tomb of Ligeia (1965) (two more scripts for Corman, A Time for Killing and Captain Nemo and the Underwater City, were heavily revised by others). From there, Towne could only go up, and this he did as script consultant for Warren Beatty's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and as full screenwriter for Villa Rides (1967). After one more acting turn in Drive, He Said (1971), Towne made a good living as a screenwriter and troubleshooting script doctor. Towne's output ranged from the salty profanities of The Last Detail (1967) to the insightful glances at Nixon-era mores in Shampoo (1968) to the misty mysticism of The Natural (1984) to the dewy-eyed romanticism of Warren Beatty's 1994 remake of Love Affair. In 1974, Towne won a Best Screenplay Academy Award for director Roman Polanski's Chinatown. This film contained one of the few totally unhappy endings in the Towne canon -- for the most part, he prefers upbeat denouements, to the extent of overhauling the endings for the screen versions of Bernard Malamud's The Natural and John Grisham's The Firm. In 1981, Robert Towne made his directorial debut with Personal Best; more successful was the second Towne-directed effort, 1988's Tequila Sunrise.