Also Credited As:Ronald Horwitz
About Ronald Harwood
Ronald Harwood was born Ronald Horwitz in Cape Town, South Africa, on Nov. 9, 1934. 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. 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. The prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art - the same school that produced John Gielgud, Ralph Fiennes, and Anthony Hopkins - accepted him, but he dropped out after a year when his father died and his mother could no longer pay the tuition. To make ends meet, Harwood got a job as a "dresser" to a famous Shakespearean actor, Sir Donald Wolfit. Traveling all around England as Wolfit's backstage jack-of-all-trades, Harwood learned a great deal about writing and the theater. In 1959, upon receiving a typewriter as a birthday gift from his father-in-law, he wrote a novel about South Africa. Harwood was broke, newly married, and wrote the novel on a lark. Amazingly he got it published.
Harwood's book was not a bestseller but it launched his writing career. He started out working in television, penning the drama "The Barber of Stamford Hill" (ITV, 1962). Feature work followed with "Private Potter" (1962), "A High Wind in Jamaica" (1965), "Drop Dead Darling" (1966), "Eyewitness" (1970), and an adaptation of the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" (1970). Tom Courtenay, a friend of Harwood's from RADA, appeared in both "Private Potter" and "Ivan Denisovich," and would later go on to star in Harwood's first major film hit, "The Dresser" (1983).
While finding success in film, Harwood proved his versatility throughout the 1960s through the 1980s, writing plays and books, as well as appearing as the host of a TV series about books called "Read All About It" (BBC, 1978-79) and a radio magazine show, "Kaleidoscope" (1973). Somehow he found the time to keep writing in a variety of genres, penning the war movie "Operation: Daybreak" (1975), 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. While Harwood's talent kept him busy, it was not until he wrote the autobiographical play "The Dresser" (1981) that he broke out as a writer with a singular point-of-view. Produced around the world to rave reviews, "The Dresser" told the story of a young man who is the dresser to an aging Shakespearean actor. Harwood's movie adaptation, starring Albert Finney and Courtenay, earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
Rather than rest on his laurels Harwood kept right on writing. He did the Nelson Mandela biopic "Mandela" (HBO, 1987), which was one of the pay channel's first original films. The project was an opportunity for Harwood to write about South Africa, and Danny Glover gave a great performance in the title role, bringing world attention to the cause of apartheid. Harwood found another opportunity to depict South Africa, with his film adaptation of the novel "Cry, the Beloved Country" (1995), and teamed again with Albert Finney in the drama "The Browning Version" (1994), an adaptation of a Terence Rattigan play. With a growing reputation for literary and intelligent adaptations, Harwood did not attempt to write original screenplays, saving his own ideas for the theater. As with "The Dresser," he got the chance to be both dramatist and screenwriter with the adaptation of his play "Taking Sides" (2001), a drama about the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic whose career flourished during Hitler's regime.
Harwood did not know it at the time but "Taking Sides" would usher in the most fruitful period of his writing life. The play was only modestly successful and the film received just a limited international release, but the great film director Roman Polanski saw it. Polanski was preparing an adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoir, "The Pianist," and thought Harwood seemed to know classical music and Nazis, so why not hire him to adapt? It turned out to be a marvelous collaboration, with Harwood and Polanski working together to craft a powerful film. Besides Harwood's Oscar, Polanski won for Best Director and Adrien Brody won for Best Actor. Despite three major Academy Awards, "The Pianist" inexplicably lost out to "Chicago" (2001) for Best Picture.
But Harwood was on a winning streak. The day after winning the Oscar, he woke up with offers to work on 20 new movies. He adapted the W. Somerset Maugham novel "Being Julia" (2003) into a starring vehicle for Annette Bening. He again teamed with Polanski to adapt Charles Dickens' novel "Oliver Twist" (2005). He followed up with the screenplay for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, "Love in the Time of Cholera" (2007).
"Cholera" received mixed reviews and underperformed at the box-office, but the rave notices for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" cemented Harwood's reputation as a writer of singular technique and taste. "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly" was a memoir written by Jean Dominique-Bauby, the dashing editor of French Elle, who suffered a catastrophic stroke at the age of 42, leaving him with "locked-in syndrome." Completely paralyzed and mute, Bauby wrote his book by spelling out each word by blinking his left eyelid to an assistant who would read to him each letter of the alphabet. Harwood's daring choice to write the story from the first person subjective point-of-view of Bauby, as well as to use voice-over so viewers could hear his voice even if the other characters could not, created a movie of extraordinary power and a lasting tribute to his stricken fellow writer. Harwood was honored with several award nominations, including a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
|Natasha Riehle. Married 1959|
|Alexandra Harwood. Studied at UCLA|
|Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London , England|
|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 All the Same Shadows|
|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 Le scaphandre et le papillon 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"|