“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – the Motown classic is the perfect song to describe Hollywood icon Robert Townsend. Townsend started out as an extra in movies and has since become a heralded actor, comedian, writer, director, producer and cable network programming CEO.
A Hollywood pioneer well ahead of his time, Townsend is often referred to as one of the "Godfathers of the Independent Film World.” With more than 30 years in the entertainment business, he has made an indelible mark in Hollywood with an extensive list of credits.
Robert’s first film appearance was as an extra in the urban classic, “Cooley High.” His break came while performing on various television comedy specials including “Rodney Dangerfield: It‘s Not Easy Bein’ Me” and “Uptown Comedy Express.” Although comedy had been his forte during the early part of his career, he knew he was destined to be on the big screen. He landed the role of a lifetime co-starring opposite Denzel Washington in “A Soldier’s Story,” and appeared with Diane Lane in “Streets of Fire” and Kevin Costner in “American Flyers.”
Once in Hollywood, seeing the difficulty black actors had and the lack of good work available in the film industry left a burning desire for Robert to step behind the camera. With his acting career in high gear, Robert’s career took a turn for the best when Robert Townsend the “independent filmmaker” was born. He wanted to do something to fill this void. Without formal film education or outside funding (using his own credit cards to finance), Robert wrote, directed, produced and starred in his own first film. The result was the critically acclaimed, “Hollywood Shuffle,” a satire depicting the trials and tribulations of black actors in Hollywood. The success of this film forced Hollywood to recognize and appreciate the visionary and multifaceted talent of Robert Townsend, Tinseltown’s newest, talented actor and filmmaker.
Following the success of “Hollywood Shuffle,” film projects continued to pour in. He was soon directing Eddie Murphy in “Eddie Murphy Raw.” His next film endeavor was the inner-city fable: “The Meteor Man” that he also wrote, directed and starred in, was another huge success. The stellar cast included James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Griffin. As a filmmaker, director and producer, his unbridled success continued.
The movie that landed Robert the credit of a lifetime was the popular soul musical “The Five Heartbeats,” a semi-autobiographical piece, reminiscent of the ‘60s R&B male groups and the ups and downs of the music industry. This classic continues to be a favorite among audiences and one of the most talked about films in the industry. In between features, Robert created and produced his ground breaking Cable Ace award-winning “Partners in Crime” variety specials for HBO and highly praised “Townsend Television” for FOX television. He also created and starred in the WB Network hit series “The Parent ‘Hood”.
Townsend continued to helm films for the small screen including: “Carmen: A Hip Hopera” for MTV Films, starring Beyonce Knowles (one of the highest rated programs for MTV) and Image Award winner, “10,000 Black Men Named George” for Showtime, a highly acclaimed period piece about the Pullman porter strike, starring Andre Braugher, and Charles Dutton.
Robert has worked with some of the top talent in Hollywood including: Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Alfre Woodard, Lou Gossett, Jr., Keenan Ivory Wayans and Chris Tucker, just to name a few and is responsible for discovering many of Hollywood’s A-List talent before they became household names. He is the mastermind behind many of Hollywood’s favorite and best-remembered movies and hit series. Robert’s body of work has been seen on various networks including Disney, Fox, NBC, HBO, WB, The N, USA, Nickelodeon and MTV.
Townsend has made history by being nominated for more than 30 NAACP Image Awards for film and television.