Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Robert Towne Dies at 89

Writer/director Robert Towne speaks onstage during the 2016 Writers Guild Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on February 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Writers Guild of America, West

Robert Towne, a highly recognized screenwriter, best known for the Oscar-winning film Chinatown plus The Last Detail, Shampoo, Tequila Sunrise and many more has died. He was 89 years old. Not only was he a screenwriter, but he was also a script doctor and contributed to movies such as The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde.

Chinatown was considered his best work. The 1974 neo-noir mystery film starred Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway and was inspired by the California water wars, disputes over Southern California water in the early 1910s and 1920s. The film overall received 11 Oscar nominations but only Towne won for the best screenplay.

Chinatown Jack Nicholson, 1974

Everett Collection

He went on to write The Two Jakes, a 1990 follow-up to Chinatown, The Firm, Days of Thunder and the first two Mission: Impossible movies. While he never received the acclaim of Chinatown again, he was always celebrated for his beautiful writing.

In 1998, film critic Michael Sragow wrote about Towne, “He knows how to use sly indirection, canny repetition, unexpected counterpoint and a unique poetic vulgarity to stretch a scene or an entire script to its utmost emotional capacity. He’s also a lush visual artist with an eye for the kind of images that go to the left and right sides of the brain simultaneously.” In 2017, he was named No. 3 on a list of the 100 Best Screenwriters of All Time by Vulture.

Robert Towne, screenwriter, with his Academy Award for CHINATOWN, 1976

Everett Collection

His final piece of work was several episodes of a television show called Welcome to the Basement. Towne was also reportedly working on a Chinatown prequel series for Netflix with David Fincher. He is survived by his wife, Luisa and two daughters.

1974 (50 Years Ago)
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1974 (50 Years Ago)

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