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Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton Paperback – October 30, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Praised by the New York Times Book Review as "probably the most intelligent and insightful writer on the theater today," John Lahr has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, most recently for his work at The New Yorker, where he writes about theater and popular culture. Mr. Lahr has written sixteen books, among them the novels The Autograph Hound (1973) and Hot to Trot (1974), and the nonfiction Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr (California, 2000), Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilisation (California, 2000), Light Fantastic: Adventures in Theater (1996), and The Orton Diaries (editor, 1986).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (October 30, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520226666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520226661
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,948,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Lahr writes for The New Yorker, where he was for 21 years the Senior drama critic of the magazine. A veteran of all aspects of the theatre, Lahr has contributed behind-the-scenes portraits, reviews, and Profiles, and has expanded the magazine's drama coverage beyond Broadway to include the work of international theatre and regional companies.

A former theatre critic at The Nation, The Village Voice, and British Vogue, among other publications, Lahr has published seventeen books on the theatre and two novels, "The Autograph Hound," and "Hot to Trot." His book "Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilization," won the 1992 Roger Machell Prize for best book on the performing arts. His other works include "Light Fantastic: Adventures in Theatre," (1996) and "Show and Tell: New Yorker Profiles," (2000). In 2001, he edited "The Diaries of Kenneth." His expanded New Yorker article on Frank Sinatra was made into a book with photographs, "Frank Sinatra: The Artist and the Man." Lahr's most recent book is "Honky Tonk Parade: New Yorker Profiles of Show People," published in 2005.

Lahr served as literary adviser to the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in 1968, and as Literary Manager of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre from 1969 to 1971. He was the co-producer of the 1987 film "Prick Up Your Ears," based on his Joe Orton biography of the same title, and was the editor of "The Orton Diaries." Lahr has also written numerous movie scripts. His short film "Sticky My Fingers. . . Fleet My Feet" (directed by John Hancock) was nominated for an Academy Award in 1971.

Lahr is a two-time winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. In 1968, he became the prize's youngest recipient; he was honored again in 1993. Lahr has written many stage adaptations, which have been performed in England and the United States, including:"Accidental Death of an Anarchist," "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Bluebird of Unhappiness: A Woody Allen Revue," and "Diary of a Somebody," which began at the Royal National Theatre, played the West End, and later toured England. He co-authored the Tony Award-winning "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," which won the 2002 Drama Desk Award for outstanding book of a musical. Lahr, who was the first drama critic to win a Tony Award, is the son of the comedian Bert Lahr, whom he wrote about in his biography "Notes on a Cowardly Lion." He divides his time between New York and London and maintains a Web site at www.johnlahr.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
I first became interested in Joe Orton about 10 years ago, whilst still at school. A working class playwright brutally murdered in his prime by his gay, psychotic lover is normally the stuff soap operas are made of. In Orton's case, though, it actually happened. John Lahr's handling of Orton's life is both thorough, yet sensitive to Orton's surviving relatives. He uses anecdotes from those people who knew Halliwell and Otron, plus he often quotes from Orton's own diaries, (which can be bought separately under the rather unimaginative title 'The Orton Diaries'), and Kenneth Williams (of Carry-On fame) diaries. Lahr begins this biography well by beginning from just before Orton moves to London to attend R.A.D.A (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), giving us glimpses of Orton's working class Leicester background. Taking us on the short journey that was Orton's life, we are shown the struggling drama student coming to terms with his lack of education by hooking up with Kenneth Halliwell, (who also attended R.A.D.A.). Lahr goes on to show us how the relationship between the two men altered from one whereby Halliwell was in charge, to a time when Orton became a successful playwright whilst Halliwell became depressed and insanely jealous. Orton's own sexual promiscuity plus his inability to give credit to Halliwell's massive contribution to Orton's own success in the field of literature all played a part in his gruesome demise at the hands of a demented Halliwell, all of which is covered in depth in Lahr's book. If Lahr is to be believed, Orton was a selfish, self-centred oath, (something that can also be detected in his plays). What does become clear from the book is this; without Halliwell, there would have been no Orton.
I would strongly advise people to read the book before seeing the film version (with Gary Oldman playing Orton)of the same name.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By "vampilord" on May 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
I love a good biography, and this one is GREAT! John Lahr writes brisk, delighfully breezy, and information-saturated biographies. He has another great one of his Father - Bert Lahr - the cowardly lion in Wizard of Oz. "Prick up your Ears"...is a page turner that kept me riveted as I came to an appreciation of the latter 60's London gay scene, and the Svengali/Frankenstein-like relationship between Orton and his 16-year lover, Ken Halliwell. Halliwell brutally murdered Orton in a frenzy of jealously and sheer madness in 1967, at Orton's peak of fame. I knew nothing of Joe Orton or his plays until I caught the last hour of the movie by the same title on BBC America last month, which starred Gary Oldman. The book is much better than the movie, in that it gives you all the "behind-the-scenes" information the movie does not have time to elaborate upon. Lahr treats Orton's horrible sex-addiction sensitively, and illustrates the magnitude of his genius and vision in a very articulate manner. Though Halliwell's murder/suicide was tragic for both men, Lahr helps the reader understand the reasons which lead to his fatal mistake, without excusing it by tapping the support of many of their old friends, living family, and aquaintences. Who knows, if only Orton had acknowledged Halliwell's contributions to his work, perhaps they'd both be with us today...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By I. Sondel VINE VOICE on April 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Joe Orton was an original, no getting around it. His plays, especially "Entertaining Mr. Sloan," "Loot" and "What the Butler Saw" are considered classics of the blackest form of comedy. He enjoyed shocking people, while always maintaining that his characters and the situations he places them in were grounded in reality.
This is a theatrical bio as bold and brash as its subject. Lahr has done a thorough job of exposing this most controversial of playwrights. Joe was a sexual compulsive, an in-your-face homosexual who enjoyed sex with strangers in public places. He also loved to brag about his exploits, never skimping on a detail.
Just when "things" were finally coming together for Orton professionally, things were beginning to unravel for his companion Kenneth Halliwell, who brutally murdered Orton in August 1967. Some would say his rude death befit how he lived the rest of his life. I think that would be judging Joe too harshly. Perhaps he would have been a flash-in-the-pan or as lasting and popular as Stoppard. We'll never know. That's the tragedy. Good job Lahr.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By G. Bradley on January 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
This biography indeed has a powerful, engaging start as it first presents the murder of Joe Orton and the causes that lead to it, then goes back to explore his bleak upbringing and the fascinating pre-published period he spent with his companion (they were trying to avoid work at all costs while writing much-rejected fiction and mutilating library books). However, once Lahr begins covering Joe The Playwright, the book frankly gets slow, boring, and exhaustive. The biography turns into a literary criticism, as Lahr spends many a page giving his own interpretation and biased opinions on Orton's works. He does this with each and every play. This has no place in the story of his life and should've been put in The Complete Plays where it would've been appropriate.
Lahr also feels the need to cover the drudgery of his subject's professional dealings at a snail's pace. All of this is somewhat understandable, since Lahr admitted in the foreword that informaiton on Orton was downright scarce during certain periods, but IMO, he should've just shortened the book as a result because we all know good things come in small packages, less is sometimes more... it's quality not quantity... you get my point.
I recommend this book if only for the first half. Though the movie isn't as rich (as it's pressed for time) it moves along in a satisfying pace and covers all the major events in an OBJECTIVE way. I advise curious people to see the movie, hardcore fans may want to invest in the book.
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