AFI Conservatory 2014 Honorary Degree Recipients

Robert Towne

Robert Towne is an acclaimed screenwriter best known for his work on CHINATOWN (1974) – a film that not only earned him the Academy Award® for Best Original Screenplay, but has since been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest American films of all time. Also appearing on AFI's lists celebrating cinema's greatest mysteries, thrills, villains, scores and quotes, its iconic final line – "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown." – ranks among the most memorable is movie history. The script is commonly used as an example and a teaching tool in screenwriting guides and film courses across the country.

In addition to his Oscar® for CHINATOWN, Towne has earned nominations for THE LAST DETAIL (1973), SHAMPOO (1975) and GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1984). With credited work that includes scripts for DAYS OF THUNDER (1990), THE FIRM (1993), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996) and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II (2000), Towne is also one of the creative community's most sought-after script doctors – including uncredited contributions to films as varied as BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), THE GODFATHER (1972), CRIMSON TIDE (1995) and ARMAGEDDON (1998). Towne has directed four of his own scripts – PERSONAL BEST (1982), TEQUILA SUNRISE (1988), WITHOUT LIMITS (1998), and, most recently, the film noir ASK THE DUST (2006), which starred Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. In 2009, Towne and his work were honored with the Star Award at the AFI Dallas Film Festival.

Towne was born in Los Angeles and raised in San Pedro, CA – where he worked as a tuna fisherman before going on to study philosophy at Pomona College. When he was 25 years old, Towne's first screenplay – LAST WOMAN ON EARTH (1960) – was produced and directed by the legendary Roger Corman. Towne co-starred in the film as a lawyer struck on the head and killed by his wealthy client over the title character. In the early 1960s, he scripted another Corman horror picture, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964), and also wrote episodes of television's THE LLOYD BRIDGES SHOW, BREAKING POINT, THE OUTER LIMITS and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

"Until the screenwriter does his job, nobody else has a job," Towne has said of his profession. "In other words, he is the a**hole who keeps everyone else from going to work."

Towne is currently working as a consulting producer on the final season of AMC's critically acclaimed series MAD MEN, and is developing THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN for Graham King's GK Films as well as an untitled original screenplay for David Fincher.


Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson is a beloved American actress whose celebrated work in film, television and on the Broadway stage has spanned seven decades of excellence. She is perhaps best known to film audiences for her role in SOUNDER (1972) – which earned her Best Actress nominations from both the Oscars® and the Golden Globes®. More than 40 years later, her work is still setting standards; just last year, she won the Tony Award® for Best Actress for her role in Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful," a role she recently reprised for a TV adaptation of the acclaimed drama.

Born in Harlem to immigrants from the island of Nevis in the West Indies, Tyson began her career as a fashion model for Ebony Magazine. Her early acting work included roles on daytime's THE GUIDING LIGHT, as well as prestigious primetime dramas like FRONTIERS OF FAITH and EAST SIDE/WEST SIDE. An early stage appearance off-Broadway in French playwright Jean Genet's "The Blacks" became a long-running hit, logging 1,408 performances with an original cast that included James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Louis Gossett, Jr., Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou and Charles Gordone.

Around that time, Tyson appeared with Sammy Davis, Jr. in A MAN CALLED ADAM (1966), starred in the film version of Graham Greene's THE COMEDIANS (1967) and had a featured role in THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER (1968).

In addition to her triumphs on the stage and silver screen Tyson has thrived on television – winning two Primetime Emmy® Awards for THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN (1974), and another for her role in OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE WIDOW TELLS ALL (1994). She has been nominated for the award six more times for such unforgettable performances in ROOTS (1977), KING (1978), THE MARVA COLLINS STORY (1982), SWEET JUSTICE (1994-1995), A LESSON BEFORE DYING (1999) and RELATIVE STRANGER (2009).

In 1982, Tyson was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award for helping to expand the role of women within the film and television community. In 2005, she was one of 25 African-American women honored for excellence at Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball. The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, a magnet school in East Orange, New Jersey, was renamed in her honor, and she plays an active part in supporting its mission to serve one of the state's most underprivileged African-American communities.

"Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew," Tyson has said. "They're what make the instrument stretch – what make you go beyond the norm."

Tyson has remained active in film with memorable roles in FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991), BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (2005), DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN (2005) and THE HELP (2011).

Tyson served on the American Film Institute Board of Trustees from 1973 to 1978, and was one of the early graduates of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women (Class of 1977).

AFI Membership