Ronald Horwitz Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born Ronald Horwitz in South Africa, British dramatist Ronald Harwood started out to be an actor and became the author of The Dresser, one of the most renowned English plays of the 1980’s. He moved to England in 1951 and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, then joined the touring company of famous Shakespearian actor Sir Donald Wolfit in 1953. When Harwood decided to abandon his acting career shortly afterward, he became Wolfit’s backstage dresser.{$S[A]Horwitz, Ronald;Harwood, Ronald}

Harwood’s writing career began with the production of his teleplay The Barber of Stamford Hill in 1960, and the range of his writing since has been significant in terms of the genres in which he has worked, though the legitimate stage turned out to be his métier. His diverse interests are evident in his subject matter, too. Sarah Bernhardt is the subject of After the Lions. The title of The Deliberate Death of a Polish Priest: A Play Based on the Transcripts of a Trial and Other Material Arising Out of the Murder of Father Jerzy Popie Uszko speaks for itself. J. J. Farr is about a lapsed priest who struggles to recover his faith and discovers the nature of freedom when he is a hostage in the Middle East. Reflected Glory is about the jealousy of a man whose younger brother’s successful plays and films are drawn from family experiences. Poison Pen is based on an actual event—a music critic receives death threats from a composer he accused of plagiarizing from the works of Frederick Delius. Taking Sides is about conductor Wilheim Furtwäengler’s Nazi activities during World War II and premiered under the direction of Harold Pinter. In Mahler’s Conversion, the composer faces the dilemma of changing his religion to secure the job of his dreams. Harwood’s most successful drama is The Dresser, which draws on his experiences with Wolfit and showcases his love for the theater. The dramatist also adapted Francis Veber’s play Le Dîner de cons as See You Next Tuesday, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was based on Alexander Solzhenitseyn’s work, and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold was taken from Evelyn Waugh’s 1957 novel.

Besides his playwriting, Harwood has enjoyed a full career as a screenwriter. His first feature film script was the 1963 adaptation of his teleplay, The Barber of Stamford Hall. The list of his screenplays is impressive. Besides a film version of The Dresser, which he produced and which brought him nominations for an Academy Award, other works that garnered honors are A High Wind in Jamaica, Arrivederci, Baby!, Cromwell, A Fine Romance, The Browning Version, his adaptation of Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, and The Pianist, based on Wadysaw Szpilman’s Smierc miasta (1946; death of a city), translated as The Pianist in 1999. The Pianist won for Harwood an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Additionally, the writer’s canon includes many teleplays, such as Evita Péron and Mandela (one of the first HBO original films for television)—and a radio play, Goodbye Kiss.

Harwood’s publications also include more than a half dozen novels (Home received the 1994 Jewish Quarterly Prize for Fiction), edited collections of essays (on the work of British master actors John Gielgud and Alec Guinness and A Night at the Theatre), short stories (One. Interior. Day.), the definitive study of Wolfit’s career, and All the World’s a Stage, a television series.

While pursuing his writing career, Harwood has been active in other areas. He hosted the BBC radio series Kaleidoscope (1973) and the BBC series on books Read All About It (1978-1979). In addition, he was a visiting professor in theater at Balliol College, Oxford (1985), president of the English PEN (1990-1993), president of the International PEN (1993-1997), and a trustee of the Booker Prize Foundation. In connection with PEN, he has been active politically, protesting human rights abuses, especially of authors worldwide. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1974 and later served as chairman of the society. Among the honors Harwood has received are Chevalier dans l’Ordre National des Arts et Lettres (1996), the Stefan Mitrov Ljubisa award for services to European literature (2000), and an honorary doctor of letters from Keele University (2002). He was appointed a Commander of the British Empire in 1999.