Forget It, Jake: It’s Robert Towne

Posted on July 5, 2024

by Eric P

Hey! You just wrote what many acclaim as the greatest screenplay of all time – what are you gonna do next?

If you’re Robert Towne, you write another one. And another one. Repeat as needed until you’re a Hollywood legend.

Towne, who died July 1 at the age of 89, is particularly famous for writing Chinatown, a gripping neo-noir built improbably around municipal water management. But that Oscar-winning script was just one installment in Towne’s forty-plus-year career during which he wrote both intimate character dramas and explosive action tentpoles, was responsible for box-office flops and major blockbusters, and worked with iconic schlockmeister Roger Corman and A-list superstar Tom Cruise.

Like many artists, Towne was a tumultuous personality – at home he contended with addiction and domestic upheaval, while on the job he was notorious for missing deadlines. He was so dissatisfied with the film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes that he insisted his script be credited to his dog.

And there’s a sense in which the evolving diversity of Hollywood eventually came to pass Towne by – his subject, typically, was men of a certain background and temperament. Not for nothing was one of his last jobs as a consulting producer on the prestige midcentury-dudes-in-crisis TV show Mad Men. Still, with a legacy that includes timeless classics like Chinatown, he left a mark on his chosen medium as indelible as the bandage on Jack Nicholson’s nose.

Did you like this blog post? Keep up to date with all of our posts by subscribing to the Library’s newsletters!

Keep your reading list updated with our book lists. Our staff love to read and they’ll give you the scoop on new tv-series inspired titles, hobbies, educational resources, pop culture, current events, and more!

Looking for more great titles? Get personalized recommendations from our librarians with this simple form.