Family & Companions
Made Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1998
A distinguished writer of plays, novels, short stories, non-fiction, and screenplays, Ronald Harwood earned a reputation for intelligent literary adaptations that often drew from his own works. Though he had a long and fruitful career, Harwood came to prominence late in life by winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Roman Polanski's extraordinary film, "The Pianist" (2002), which depicted Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's survival in Nazi occupied Warsaw. Previously he earned Academy attention with the adaptation of his own play, "The Dresser" (1983), which drew upon his own experiences as a personal assistant to aging actor Sir Donald Wolfit in the 1950s. Harwood later brought recognition to the struggle of apartheid with his biopic on "Mandela" (HBO, 1987) and later with his adaptation of "Cry, the Beloved Country" (1995). After "The Pianist," he delivered notable adaptations of W. Somerset Maugham's "Being Julia" (2003) and Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" (2005), before writing an extraordinary adaptation of debilitated editor Jean Dominique-Bauby's memoir, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (2007). While most writers saw their best work earlier in life, Harwood improved exponentially with age on his way to becoming one of the literary world's most celebrated and prolific scribes.
Born Ronald Horwitz on Nov. 9, 1934 in Cape Town, South Africa, Harwood was raised by his father, Isaac Horwitz, and his mother, Isobel. As a white South African, he did not suffer directly the unfairness of the racist apartheid state, but the injustice of racial discrimination nevertheless hit home with the advent of World War II due to his Jewish heritage. As a boy, Harwood became intensely aware of his outsider status while watching newsreel footage of the Nazi atrocities at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz death camps. The haunting images of bulldozers shifting mounds of corpses into mass graves had a profound impact upon him and his future creative life as a writer. At the age of 17, Harwood moved to England to pursue a career as an actor and briefly attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, only to drop out after a year when his father died and his mother could no longer pay tuition. To make ends meet, Harwood landed a job as a dresser to famed Shakespearean actor, Sir Donald Wolfit, leading to travels in and around England as Wolfit's backstage jack-of-all-trades, where he learned a great deal about writing and the theater.
After receiving a typewriter as a birthday gift from his father-in-law in 1961, Harwood commenced his writing career by publishing his first novel, All the Same Shadows, drafting the screenplay for his first film "Private Potter" (1962) starring Tom Courtenay, and writing his first play "March Hares" (1964). Also at the time, he began writing for the small screen with the drama "The Barber of Stamford Hill" (ITV, 1962), and later went on to write the script for "A High Wind in Jamaica" (1965), a well-regarded pirate drama starring Anthony Quinn and James Coburn, and the British comedy "Diamonds for Breakfast" (1968). A multi-faceted writer, Harwood continued writing novels while churning out scripts and plays, publishing George Washington September Sir! (1961), The Guilt Merchants (1963) and The Girl in Melanie Klein (1969) throughout the decade. In the 1970s, Harwood wrote the scripts for the Russian prison movie "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" (1971) and the World War II drama "Operation Daybreak" (1975), while appearing as a radio host of the magazine show "Kaleidoscope" (1973) and on screen as the host of the book series "Read All About It" (BBC, 1978-79).
While finding success in film, Harwood continued to prove his versatility as an author and playwright, penning plays like "The Good Companions" (1974), "The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold" (1977) and "A Family" (1978), while writing novels such as Articles of Faith (1973) and César and Augusta (1978). After the TV biopic "Evita Peron" (NBC, 1981), and several episodes of the TV series, "Tales of the Unexpected" (ITV, 1979-1988), based on the stories of Roald Dahl, Harwood wrote "The Dresser" (1981), a stage play about a young personal assistant to an aging performer that drew upon his experiences working for Sir Donald Wolfit. The play was adapted two years later into the acclaimed film of the same name, starring friend Tom Courtenary as the assistant and Albert Finney as an aging star named Sir. The well-performed adaptation of his play earned five Academy Awards nomination, including one for Hardwood for Best Adapted Screenplay. From there, he wrote the script for the little-known horror thriller, "The Doctor and the Devils" (1985), and churned out plays like "The Deliberate Death of a Polish Priest" (1985), "J.J. Farr" (1987) and "Another Time" (1989).
Returning to television, Harwood wrote one of HBO's first original films, "Mandela" (1987), a biopic about South Africa's Nelson Mandela starring Danny Glover. The film was credited as helping bring the scourge of apartheid to worldwide attention. He focused on the stage for several years with "Reflected Glory" (1992), "Poison Pen" (1993) and "Taking Sides" (1995), about controversial German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. Harwood then wrote the script for "The Browning Version" (1994), which starred Albert Finney as a career teacher put out to pasture due to a heart condition. He next returned to his native South Africa to adapt the novel for "Cry, the Beloved Country" (1995), an apartheid-set drama about a minister (James Earl Jones) from a poverty-stricken farming town who goes to Johannesberg to seek out his son, only to encounter the harsh life of the big city while joining forces with a white wealthy landowner (Richard Harris) suffering the loss of his own son. In the new millennium, Harwood was called upon to adapt his play "Taking Sides" (2001), a drama that starred Stellan Skarsgard as Furtwängler, whose career flourished in Nazi Germany following his choice to stay instead of leave.
Because of his fascination with Nazi Germany and his own Jewish heritage, Harwood was hired by Roman Polanski to adapt the memoirs of Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who survived living in Nazi-occupied Poland throughout the war, into the acclaimed drama "The Pianist" (2002). A powerful film anchored by Adrien Brody's Oscar-winning performance as Szpilman, "The Pianist" was a fresh take on a well-worn subject that riveted both audiences and critics, and won multiple Academy Awards, including one for Harwood for Best Adapted Screenplay. His win was a Hollywood boon, as he went on to write the World War II thriller "The Statement" (2003), starring Michael Caine, and to adapt the W. Somerset Maugham novel "Being Julia" (2003) into a star vehicle for eventual Best Actress nominee Annette Bening. He again teamed with Polanski to adapt the Charles Dickens novel "Oliver Twist" (2005) and followed up with an adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera" (2007), directed by Mike Newell and starring Javier Bardem. Both films received mixed reviews and underperformed at the box-office.
Harwood next received rave notices for his adaptation of Jean Dominique-Bauby's memoir, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (2007), which cemented his reputation as a writer of singular technique and taste. Bauby's memoir was written following the former Elle editor's catastrophic stroke that left him completely mute and paralyzed with locked-in syndrome. His only movement was blinking his left eyelid, which he did to spell out words to an assistant who painstakingly dictated the book. Harwood's choice to narrate the film from Bauby's point of view before and after the stroke was a daring one, and made for a compelling film directed by artist Julian Schnabel. For his work, Harwood was honored with several award nominations, including a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. From there, he wrote the successful, but underwhelming historical epic "Australia" (2008) for director Baz Luhrmann, which showcased Nicole Kidman as an English aristocrat who falls for a rough-and-tumble cattle driver (Hugh Jackman). Returning to adaptations of his own work, Harwood wrote the script for "The Quartet" (2012), a British comedy-drama about a group of retired opera singers who struggle to put on a concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday. The film starred Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly as the titular quartet, and marked the directing debut of Dustin Hoffman.
By Shawn Dwyer
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Special Thanks (Special)
Writer (TV Mini-Series)
Joined Donald Wolfit's Shakespeare Company as Sir Donald's personal dresser
As actor, appeared in "The Strong Are Lonely"
Co-wrote "The Barber of Stamford Hill" for TV
Published first novel <i>All the Same Shadows</i>
Wrote first produced screenplay "The Barber of Stamford Hill"
Wrote first produced play "Country Matters"
Wrote screenplay for "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"
Hosted radio series "Kaleidoscope"
Member of literature panel, Arts Council of Great Britain
Served as artistic director of Cheltenham Festival of Literature
Hosted TV series "Read All About It" (BBC)
"The Dresser" premiered in London
Broadway debut as author, "The Dresser"
Wrote NBC movie "Evita Peron," starring Faye Dunaway
Adapted "The Dresser" for features; earned Oscar nomination for screenplay; also produced
Wrote British series "All the World's a Stage"
Was visitor in theatre, Balliol College, Oxford University
Wrote HBO original movie "Mandela"
Penned adaptation of "Cry, the Beloved Country"
Play "Taking Sides" produced on Broadway
Premiered new play "Mahler's Conversion," about the composer's religious conversion from Judaism to Catholicism; Antony Sher starred as Mahler
Wrote screenplay adaptation of play "Taking Sides"; screened at Toronto Film Festival
With director Roman Polanski, co-wrote screenplay for "The Pianist"; received BAFTA and Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay (Adapted)
Penned screenplay for "Being Julia," starring Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons
Penned Roman Polanski directed version of "Oliver Twist," starring Ben Kingsley
Wrote feature adaptation of "Love in the Time of Cholera," directed by Mike Newell
Wrote screenplay adaption for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," based on the French memoir <i>Le scaphandre et le papillon</i> by Jean-Dominique Bauby; earned Golden Globe, Oscar and Independent Spirit Award Nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay
Co-wrote screenplay of Baz Luhrmann's epic "Australia"
Adapted his own play for screenplay of Dustin Hoffman's feature directorial debut "Quartet"
Made Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1998