You are here

‘Chinatown’ writer Robert Towne dies aged 89

By AFP - Jul 03,2024 - Last updated at Jul 03,2024

LOS ANGELES, United States — Robert Towne, the Hollywood writer whose “Chinatown” script is often described as the greatest screenplay ever written, has died at 89.

The Oscar winner, whose credits also include “The Last Detail” and “Shampoo”, and the first two “Mission: Impossible” films, passed away at home in Los Angeles, publicist Carri McClure told AFP.

Towne was a leading figure of the 1970s New Hollywood movement. Several classics benefitted from Towne’s input, despite his name being absent from their writing credits.

Most famously these included “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Godfather”.

The former came early in Towne’s career, when he was starting out as a journeyman writer for low-budget 1960s Hollywood films. Towne was dubbed a “creative consultant”. 

For “The Godfather”, Towne received a shout-out from the Oscars stage as Francis Ford Coppola accepted the best screenplay prize for his gangster classic.

Coppola offered “credit where it is due” for “the very beautiful scene between Marlon [Brando] and Al Pacino in the garden — that was Bob Towne’s scene”.

That propelled Towne into the New Hollywood firmament, and remarkable success followed.

At his peak, Towne was nominated for screenplay Oscars three years in a row during the mid-1970s, winning for “Chinatown”.

The film features Jack Nicholson as a 1930s private detective, whose investigation into a cheating husband uncovers a world of Los Angeles corruption.

Its complex plot, wisecracking yet dark dialogue and daring themes mean “Chinatown” is held up as a perfect screenplay at film schools, even if director Roman Polanski changed the ending into something far more terrifying than Towne had envisioned.

Towne’s career never quite reached those heights again — perhaps an impossible task.

His sequel “The Two Jakes” — with Nicholson returning to star and direct — earned mixed reviews in 1990.

That same year Towne collaborated with Tom Cruise for “Days of Thunder”.

The pair would combine again for “The Firm”, and the first two films of the “Mission: Impossible” action franchise.

Later, he was a consulting producer on television’s “Mad Men”.

“Legendary screenwriter and filmmaker Robert Towne passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his loving family on Monday, July 1st 2024,” said a statement.

“Information regarding a celebration of life ceremony will be announced at a later date. The Towne family would appreciate privacy during this time.”


14 users have voted.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.