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Oscars 2012: 15 Icons Recount the Night That Changed Their Lives Forever

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    Ron Bass, Dustin Lance Black & Robert Towne
    Art Streiber
    The Storytellers
    Ron Bass (1 Nomination, 1 Win), Dustin Lance Black (1 Nomination, 1 Win) and Robert Towne (4 Nominations, 1 Win)

    Only a screenwriter, filmmaking’s most enduring unsung hero, could carry with him a feeling of a regret after claiming gold on Oscar night.

    “Honestly, I felt nothing but guilty.” That’s how legendary scribe Towne remembers his 1975 best original screenplay win for Roman Polanski’s epic drama Chinatown — the script that writing connoisseurs say changed the craft forever. The film earned a whopping 11 nominations that year, including ones for Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, Polanski and for best picture.

    “We were up against The Godfather: Part II,” says Towne, 77, swapping Oscar tales with Bass and Black on a recent morning in Beverly Hills. “And my award was one of the last given out that night. James Michener presented it, and really, by the time I got up there, I just felt so bad that everyone else from Chinatown had lost.”

    Bass, 69, whose award-winning original script for Tom Cruise’s breakout drama Rain Man joined the film’s 1989 win for best picture, director (Barry Levinson) and lead actor (Dustin Hoffman), can relate to Towne’s regrets.

    “I felt terrible that Tom didn’t win! His performance was wonderful, and he was the one who hung in there for years to get the film made,” says Bass. “He was the first person to hug me backstage after I won.” Black, 37, who calls Bass and Towne “two of my heroes,” says that his 2009 victory for penning Milk, Gus Van Sant’s tragic biopic of gay activist Harvey Milk, still hasn’t sunk in. “Seriously, I’m the luckiest writer in the world,” the former Big Love scribe says when asked how he feels about his latest effort, the original script for Clint Eastwood’s drama J. Edgar, being overlooked by the Academy this year. “I mean, really,” says Black, “how greedy do I want to be?” — Stacey Wilson

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