Badass Writer of the Week: Screenwriter Robert Towne

By Sean Tuohy

Until the screenwriter does his job, nobody else has a job. In other words, he is the asshole who keeps everyone else from going to work.
— Robert Towne

Some writers can set up a small blaze with their words, but very few can ignite an entire decade with their work. Screenwriter Robert Towne spent most of the 1970s blowing up the screen with his jaw dropping scripts including the classic "Chinatown," "Shampoo," "Mission Impossible." Towne's writing fused the classic form of storytelling with an extra punch that Hollywood needed. He mixed the old school with the new school in an intoxicating cocktail that audiences loved to watch.

Born and raised in California, Towne got his start working in film with the master Roger Corman. Towne worked on a script for a B-movie horror film that was never made (the screenplay is sadly lost in time). He eventually moved into television and worked on the "The Outer Limits" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E" before moving into film full-time. His stylish noir film "Chinatown" starring Jack Nicholson rocked the box office in 1974. Taking a look at the Los Angeles water wars of the 1930s, the film looked and felt like a Chandler film, but with a darkness smoldering in the background.

Towne followed up “Chinatown” with the classic "Shampoo," which, despite its title, has more sex in it than you might think. He was declared the finest screenwriter in town and his films have made millions. He would go on to write scenes for huge films like “Orca,” “The New Centurions,” and “Frantic."

In 1985, Towne was so dissatisfied with the rewrites of his script for “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” that he changed his name to P.H. Vazak (his dog’s name). The film ended up being nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and a screenwriting pooch nearly walked away with one of Hollywood's highest honors.

Without Towne's groundbreaking and badass work, we would not the likes of Lawrence Kasden, David Koepp, or James Vanderbilt, and Hollywood would be a less brooding place.

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