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Thursday, August 9, 2012

"All classes are criminal today. We live in an age of equality." -Funeral Games, Joe Orton

On August 9th, 1967, one of my favorite playwrights, the (in)famous Joe Orton was murdered by his lover Kenneth Halliwell. If you haven't read any of Orton's deliciously macabre oeuvre, especially his riveting diaries, I recommend Stephen Frears' excellent 1987 film, Prick Up Your Ears, ( as a wonderful introduction. Alfred Molina's portrayal of Kenneth Halliwell steals the show.

Now...Joe Orton isn't everyone's cup of tea. He is definitely, as he described himself with relish, an "acquired taste." While the diaries sparkle with his tremendous wit, they also reveal Orton as selfish, misogynistic, cruel and very arrogant. He also writes with great gusto about paying for sex with boys as young as 13 in Tangiers. In many ways, his diaries, while fascinating, are deeply disturbing.

But I'm not here to justify his life. (Nor, after all, would Joe Orton want me to, or give a damn what anyone thought about him. If anything, he'd probably be irritated and depressed, if people weren't appalled by what he said and did. He needed to shock his audience.) What I respect about Joe, besides his hilariously wicked talent, was his determination to live life on his terms and damn the consequences. He was ferociously true to his art and to his talent. He was determined that people would take him and his gifts as they found him. And 45 years ago today, his lover, Kenneth Halliwell beat him to death with a hammer.

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