Born Ronald Horwitz in in 1934, he moved to from South Africa to London in 1951 to pursue a career in the theater. He changed his name to Harwood after an English master told him it was too foreign and too Jewish for a stage career. After attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, he joined the Shakespeare Company of Sir Donald Wolfit, one of the last great 'actor-managers' of Great-Britain. From 1953 to 1958, Harwood became the personal dresser of Sir Donald. He would later draw from this experience in his play The Dresser. and write a biography.
In 1960, he began a prolific new career as a writer, penning plays, novels and non-fiction books. While he also worked often as a screenwriter, he seldom wrote original material directly for the screen, rather acting as an adapter sometimes of his own work.
One of the recurring themes in Harwood's work is his fascination for the stage, its artists and artisans as displayed in the aforementionned The Dresser. His plays After the Lions (about Sarah Bernard), Another Time (about a gifted piano player), Quartet (about aging opera singers) and his non-fiction book All the World's a Stage, are all based on his experiences in the theater. Harwood is also a student of WWII, as evidenced by the films Operation Daybreak, The Statement, The Pianist, and his play turned to film, Taking Sides. Based on true stories, the latter two films feature once again musicians as their main characters.
Harwood is the quintessential man of letters, publishing more than a half dozen novels, as well as collections of essays and short stories. He has also edited a biography of John Gielgud (1984), and written the definitive work on Sir Donald Wolfit, Sir Donald Wolfit CBE: His life and work in the Unfashionable Theatre (1971). During the 1970s Harwood hosted the BBC series Read All About It on books, and the BBC radio magazine show, Kaleidoscope. He Made Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1974 and was awarded Commander of the British Empire in 1999. From 1993 to 1997 Harwood was president of the international PEN Club.
It is perhaps as a screen writer where Harwood achieved the most fame. He wrote screenplays for such notable films, The Browning Version (1994) with Albert Finney, Being Julia (2004) with Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons, and Roman Polanski's version of Oliver Twist (2005) with Ben Kingsley.
He won an Academy Award for the script of The Pianist, having already been nominated for The Dresser in 1983. Harwood received his third Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2007 for his adaptation of the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for which he also won a British Academy Film Award. In 2008. Harwood was awarded the Humanitas Award in recognition of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
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