Veteran Sound Expert Bo Harwood, Who Won an Emmy for Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Dies at 76

Bo Harwood
Bo Harwood
Bo Harwood
Bo Harwood

Veteran sound expert Benjamin “Bo” Harwood, Jr. has died at the age of 76. He worked as a sound mixer, sound editor, sound engineer, music supervisor, composer, and songwriter over the course of his illustrious career.

Born in Los Angeles in 1946 to Benjamin Harwood, Sr., and Jeanne Elaine Yourell Harwood, both native, first-generation Angelenos, Bo grew up in Pacific Palisades, where he often adventured in the hills of Will Rogers State Park.

In his late teen years, Bo and his mom moved to Midland, Texas, where he took up sports cars as a hobby. While in Texas, Bo studied architecture at Texas Tech University.

Bo started playing the guitar and harmonica as a teenager, singing and playing Bob Dylan’s songs. In the mid-‘60s, Bo took his guitar to the Bay Area to live and work in Haight Ashbury, dubbing himself “a proud veteran of the 1967 Summer of Love — fully equipped with long hair, knee-high moccasins, beads, bracelets and a pocketful of hope.”

After joining the band Trio in 1966, he was offered the chance to score music for a movie, The Bach Train, conceived and directed by James Eric, who Bo regarded as “one of the great artists in Hollywood.” As the composer of The Bach Train, Bo met independent filmmaker John Cassavetes at a screening of the film in 1970. Bo went on to work with Cassavetes the very next day.

With time, their relationship developed into a deep, artistic collaboration and friendship that lasted until Cassavetes’ untimely death in 1989. Bo composed the music and sound engineered the Cassavettes films Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, Three Plays of Love and Hate, and Cassavetes’ last film, Love Streams, for which Harwood composed an operetta.

Bo earned awards for his work in Canada, one of which was a Genie for Best Original Song in 1984 for Paul Almond’s “Ups & Downs.” Bo’s film composer credits also include the cult classics Terror Train and My Bloody Valentine, both of which brought him Genie nominations.

Throughout the 1980s to mid-2000s, Bo was a sound engineer on several smaller films and television shows. During this time, he sound-engineered dozens of episodes of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, (for which he won an Emmy for Sound), My So-Called Life, Malcolm in the Middle, Felicity, Six Feet Under, and Entourage.

Always modest despite his innate talent, Bo shared his personal and professional wisdom with those around him with an open and loving heart, always ready to blow wind into another’s sails.

In 1996, Bo assumed legal guardianship of a goddaughter, after the passing of her father, one of his childhood friends. He maintained close relationships to his last days with many of his other godchildren, acting as a mentor and parent as needed. He shared his passions with others in a way that made clear he never lost his sense of childlike wonder.

Bo urged others to follow their passions and dreams, to take chances because amazing things happen when you follow your heart.  For many people, he was someone who helped make those dreams happen, dedicating time and taking chances on younger, inexperienced hopefuls whose passion he understood. Bo worked through the hard times with many, reaching out to numerous people working through substance use and abuse issues.

Bo was always surrounded by a loving dog, from Bear through to Dio, who were the backseat drivers in his Cadillac Seville. His equestrian-friendly neighborhood in Rancho Burbank was home to his horse Yogi, a larger-than-life personality. He also loved his motorcycles (he traded in his Ducati for a modest Harley-Davidson) and bluffing his way through poker games, and he was passionate about great movies as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bo Harwood was married to Joanne Tolley, and later to Leslie Hope. He is survived by his sister, Laurie David and her, family, the family of his sister Joan Elkins Almond, many nieces and nephews, his adopted goddaughter Missy Meisenheimer, and many other loving godchildren.

Bo left an indelible impression of care and wisdom appreciated by numerous nephews and grandnephews, as well as untold godchildren who crossed his path. Bo’s family, friends, and second family members were fortunate and deeply blessed that he was in their lives. What will be remembered and missed about Bo Harwood, besides his dreamily artistic musical talents, are his care and hope for those in trouble and the considered opinion he was willing to provide.  

A Celebration of Life will be held for Bo Harwood at Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga on Saturday, Oct. 15, from 3-5 p.m. In lieu of flowers, you may send a donation in Bo Harwood’s name to the Golden Retriever Club of Greater Los Angeles, where he found a couple of his best friends.