Saturday, July 20, 2024

Robert Towne, Legendary Oscar Winning Screenwriter of “Chinatown,” “Shampoo,” Dead at 89


Of the classic 70s films, Robert Towne’s stand out as the most legendary. Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” and Hal Ashby’s “Shampoo” are among them.

Towne has reportedly died at age 89 in Los Angeles. In just the last week there was talk of a prequel miniseries to “Chinatown” for streaming.

Lee Grant, who won an Oscar for “Shampoo,” said on Twitter: “Shaken to hear that Robert Towne has left us. His life, like the characters he created, was incisive, iconoclastic, & entirely originally. He gave me the gift of “Shampoo”. He gave all of us the gift of his words & his films. There isn’t another like him. There won’t be again.”

Jack Nicholson, who starred so famously as Jake Gittes in “Chinatown,” probably won’t be able to give a statement. Ashby died a while ago. Polanski is likely asleep in Paris.

Towne’s uncredited work is almost as impressive as the films with his byline. He worked on “The Godfather,” “Marathon Man,” and “The Parallax View,” for example. His fingerprints are all over all the now classic films of the 70s.

Screenwriter Billy Ray says on Twitter: “Nominated for Best Screenplay 3 years in a row. Wrote the “We’ll get there, Pop” scene in The Godfather. A legend. A friend. He once let me hold his Chinatown Oscar. What a career. Now he’s w Alvin Sargent & Bill Goldman & all the other giants.”

Towne won 1 Oscar for “Chinatown,” and was nominated three other times including for “The Last Detail,” “Shampoo,” and “Greystoke.” His screenplays were the most textured and beautifully shaped stories, far beyond anything we see now. They were like great pieces of music.

His most famous line?

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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