When listing the names of the important figures that have made the James Bond film franchise what it is today, there are the easily recognizable, obvious selections that have earned their rightful place in the 00 hall of fame. Ian Fleming for having written the original novels, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, Sean Connery, original director Terence Young, etc. Others have played a part, be it great or small, in the franchise’s legendary history, yet their importance is either minimized or overlooked entirely. Welcome to the first instalment of Unsung 00 Heroes, the inaugural subject of which is Johanna Harwood.
Who is Johanna Harwood? One shouldn’t be blamed for not recognizing the name. I myself was only very vaguely familiar with it until a few weeks ago when reading up the films’ stories via the James Bond Archives and now Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films (Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury, 2015, The History Press). One of the possible reasons why Harwood’s contributions to the franchise are rarely broached is that she has been somewhat quiet about them for decades until recently when interviewed by aforementioned film historians Field and Chowdhury. Her Wikipedia page offers a serviceable idea of her life and accomplishments, but it isn’t nearly as complex and detail oriented as those hilighting more famous artists. There is also the fact that her work was ultimately limited to only the first two movies.
Harwood, born and raised in Ireland, was a script continuity proof-reader before eventually writing screenplays themselves. With little to no film related career opportunities in Ireland, she moved to London where the real action was. It was there that she earned a position as what is sometimes described as a ‘continuity girl’ at the Famous Artists agency. Shortly thereafter the man she worked under left to work in Paris, leaving the offices in the hands of up and coming producer and general entertainment seeker Harry Saltzman. It was after making it clear to the always rambunctious but open minded Saltzman that her interest lied in writing screenplays more so than verifying their continuity logic that she was finally able to relish in her true aspiration.
Saltzman’s attempts to bring the 007 novels to the silver screen would not come to fruition until a few years later with the help of the inimitable Cubby Broccoli, but Harwood nevertheless got to practice her writing skills. Saltzman, an energetic fellow whose ideas for new projects changed as often as the wind’s direction, now had an unknown, affordable (read: cheap) writer to crank out potential first drafts. That she did with certain aplomb. Little known fact (entirely unbeknownst to me), Harwood even wrote a Bond short story titled Some Are Born Great that was published in Nursery World magazine in September 1959, which was warmly received by none other than Fleming himself.
When the deal to translate the James Bond novels to film was finally locked, Harwood’s time working with Saltzman and Broccoli would be disappointingly limited. She was asked to try her hand at both the DN and FRWL scripts, as were a host of other, much better known scribes working in the business at the time, among them Richard Maibaum, Wolf Mankowitz, and Berkely Mather, but Harwood was nevertheless able to have her say, to a degree, in how the stories took shape. Some of Kind Hero reveals that, for example, her FRWL draft was a fairly straightforward adaptation of Fleming’s novel. Not a bad idea considering how maddeningly popular it was at the time, especially since United States President John F. Kennedy had listed it as one of his personal favourite reads only a few years before. The more flamboyant flourishes, such the Q character, were not her doing. It’s interesting to note that she contributed to the first two entries. Both DN and FRWL have very particular qualities about them as each sports discernible ingredients that would go on to become staples of the 007 series, yet both are more grounded, relatively speaking of course. By the time ostentatiousness entered the fray with GF, Harwood had already quit working for Saltzman.
As so often seems to be the case in the filmmaking business, screenwriters are regularly given the shaft as far as both pay and credits are concerned. One would think that directors and producers hire and fire them on mere whims. While readings suggest that Saltzman liked having Harwood around, it was she that grew tired of seeing her work morph into something she did not particularly care for. The straw that broke the camel’s back was director Young’s own writing attempts on FRWL. Young’s satisfaction with the alterations prompted Harwood to resign from Saltzman’s office.
Harwood, who spoke and wrote fluent French, would remain in the writing business, although her future efforts concentrated predominantly on novel translations and condensing French stories for Reader’s Digest.
Sometimes understanding whose screenwriting contributions made it into a film is the most difficult investigation process when analyzing film. So many people can try their hand at a screenplay that it can feel like an unfathomably deep rabbit hole. Even so, learning about Johanna Harwood’s efforts on DN and FRWL, especially considering how those pictures turned out with regards to style and tone, makes her a true Unsung 00 Hero. We salute thee.