Robert Towne, Oscar-Winning ‘Chinatown’ Screenwriter and Famed Script Doctor, Dies at 89

Robert Towne, the celebrated screenwriter of “Chinatown,” died at age 89 on Monday at his home in Los Angeles, his publicist Carri McClure confirmed to TheWrap on Tuesday.

He won a Best Screenplay Oscar for penning Roman Polanski’s 1974 neonoir, and was also nominated for his scripts for Hal Ashby films “The Last Detail” and “Shampoo.”

Towne was also renowned as a script doctor, famously helping out Warren Beatty on “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Heaven Can Wait.” He also scripted a pivotal scene in “The Godfather” between Al Pacino and Marlon Brando’s characters. Francis Ford Coppola even thanked Towne in his acceptance speech when he won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

“Giving credit where it’s due, I’d like to thank Bob Towne who wrote the very beautiful scene between Marlon and Al Pacino in the garden; that was Bob Towne’s scene,” Coppola said on Oscar night.

“There is a strong case to be made that Robert Towne is the most gifted scribe ever to write for film. There can be little doubt that he is one of the finest ever,” Andrew J. Rausch wrote in the 2008 book, “Fifty Filmmakers.”

Towne frequently collaborated with Tom Cruise, including on the first two “Mission: Impossible” films, as well as “The Firm” and “Days of Thunder.”

Towne also directed a number of films, including the ’80s sports dramas “Personal Best” and “Without Limits,” as well as the noirish 1988 thriller “Tequila Sunrise” and the 2006 “Ask the Dust,” based on the novel of the same name by John Fante.

He began as an actor, taking classes from low-budget producing legend Roger Corman, alongside Jack Nicholson and Sally Kellerman. He starred in Corman’s 1961 film “Creature From the Haunted Sea,” before going on to pen the script for Corman’s 1965 Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tomb of Ligeia.”

He was nominated for a fourth screenwriting Oscar for 1985’s “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,” a film on which he was credited as P.H. Vazak, the name of his dog, because he was unhappy with Hugh Hudson’s finished film.

Towne later worked as a consulting producer on AMC prestige series “Mad Men.” His last screen credits were two episodes of the web series, “Welcome to the Basement.”

In 2014, he received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute, an award that was presented by Coppola. On the AFI site, you can watch a clip of Towne’s acceptance speech in which he explained how he came up with the crucial “Godfather” scene in just one night.

In his AFI speech, Towne told the audience, “All writers have collaborators. I had the very best of collaborators. I say to you, look to your left, to your right, look to your friends, they’re the ones who will bring out the very best. I want to thank you again, Francis, for bringing me along for the ride.”

He is survived by two daughters: Katherine, from his marriage to Julie Payne, and Chiara, with second wife Luisa Gaule. He is also the former father-in-law of “Sons of Anarchy” star Charlie Hunnam, who was married to Katherine from 1999 to 2002.

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