Towne to get WGA Laurel

Robert Towne will receive the Writers Guild of America’s 1997 Screen Laurel Award, the guild’s highest honor for screenwriting and given to honor the writer’s body of work.

The award will be presented at the WGA Awards on March 16.

The scribe won an original screenplay Oscar for “Chinatown” and also penned such pics as “The Last Detail,” “Personal Best,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Days of Thunder” and “The Two Jakes.” He has co-written “Mission: Impossible,” “The Firm,” “Love Affair” and “Shampoo.”

In a statement, WGA president Brad Radnitz called Towne “the writer’s writer, singular in the depth, scope and success of his work. His screenplays have resulted in positive images indelibly etched in our cultural consciousness.”

Towne is in the editing process of Warner Bros.’ biopic of long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine, a project that he is directing.

“I felt very gratified and very old,” he said of hearing of the award. “I just thought, ‘You are a museum piece now.’ And here I am struggling in the middle of post-production.”

He said it was “very gratifying” to receive the award, especially with a list of past recipients that include Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Waldo Salt, Woody Allen, Neil Simon and Billy Wilder.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in San Pedro, Towne worked as a fisherman before landing his first writing job with Roger Corman. He attended Pomona College, where he wrote short stories while studying philosophy.

He next plans to write “Hennesey,” a project for Tom Cruise’s Par-based company that Towne may also direct and that may star Cruise. And still in his plans is an adaptation of “Ask the Dust,” John Fante’s novel.

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