Recently, Robert Townsend, the Hollywood hyphenate added president and CEO of a Television Network to his list that already includes actor, director, writer, comedian, and producer. Not bad for a kid raised by a single mother on the rough Westside of Chicago.
The second oldest of four children Robert entertained his mother doing impressions of everyone he watched on television. His impersonations were astounding. He could transform into Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, and Humphrey Bogart and then turn around and do Alfred Hitchcock and Bill Cosby. Robert’s genius revealed itself publicly in elementary school while reading Shakespeare’s Oedipus Rex where he dazzled the class with his ability to transform effortlessly into characters. His remarkable talent caught the attention of Chicago’s Experimental Black Actors Guild X-Bag Theatre in Chicago.
Then it was onto The Improvisation, New York’s premiere comedy club. It was there his career as a stand-up comedian took off. Soon after, he hit Hollywood performing on various television comedy specials including “Rodney Dangerfield: It ‘s Not Easy Bein Me" and “Uptown Comedy Express" and landing roles opposite Denzel Washington in “A Soldier’s Story", Diane Lane in “Streets of Fire" and Kevin Costner in “American Flyers".
Unbridled success continued when Robert Townsend the independent filmmaker was born. Without formal film education or outside funding (used his own credit cards) Robert co-wrote, directed, and starred in his own film. The result was the critically acclaimed “Hollywood Shuffle". His next film endeavor was the inner-city fable: "The Meteor Man" that he also wrote, directed and starred. The stellar cast included James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Griffin. The popular soul musical, "The Five Heartbeats", reminiscent of 60’s R & B male groups was his next cinematic accomplishment. 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 Parenthood".
With his career in high gear, film projects poured in. He was soon directing Eddie Murphy in “Eddie Murphy Raw"; Academy Award-winners Halle Berry and Martin Landau in "B*A*P*S"; Academy Award-winner Louis Gossett, Jr. in Showtime’s “Love Songs"; and the Disney family film “Up, Up, and Away"!
Townsend made history at the NAACP Image Awards in 2001 by directing three performers nominated in the best actor/actress category in three different films: Leon, for his role in NBC’s “Little Richard"; Alfre Woodard in the Showtime Movie “Holiday Heart" (which also garnered her a Golden Globe nomination) and Natalie Cole for her gripping self-portrayal in “Livin' For Love: The Natalie Cole Story" (for which she won the coveted Image Award for best actress). Townsend continued to helm films for the small screen: "Carmen: A Hip-Hopera" for MTV Films, starring Beyonce Knowles, Mos Def, and Bow Wow. "10,000 Black Men Named George" for Showtime, a period piece about the Pullman porter strike, nominated for four Image Awards, starring Andre Braugher, and Charles Dutton, who went on to win the Image Award.
While busy as a performer and filmmaker, Robert always makes time to participate in humanitarian efforts and speak to various organizations.
As a longtime speaker for the United Negro College Fund, his concern for inner city youth takes him through out the country to inspire young people to follow their dreams. In addition, Robert shares his business expertise with various Fortune 500 companies.
Today, Townsend continues to reinvent himself as the President and CEO of Productions for the Black Family Channel. During his first five months on the job he has produced eight new television programs including “Spoken", “Souled Out", “The Thousand Dollar Bee", “Lisa Knight and the Round Table", and “The Black College Talent Hour", that run the gamut in content. In his new role as CEO, Townsend aims to change the face of television. “I know it’s a tall order and I’ve set the bar really high, but in order to reach the stars you must set your sights on the moon".
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