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Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton Paperback

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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: 9 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,608,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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A fantastic biography of my favourite playwright.
Leith Lachlan Wulf
Lahr treats Orton's horrible sex-addiction sensitively, and illustrates the magnitude of his genius and vision in a very articulate manner.
The other third covers Orton's and Halliwell's relationship revealing little that isn't in the public domain already or on the internet.
Michael Soros

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 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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4 of 4 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. H OAKLEY on October 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Prick Up Your Ears is a biography of Joe Orton, who achieved a measure of fame in Britain and the US for his plays such as "What the Butler Saw." Orton, who was gay, got much of his literary education from his lover. The lover, who went from being the dominant person in the relationship to the lesser when Orton became famous, eventually developed such a rage against Orton that he murdered him and then killed himself.
Orton's plays are often funny, but not deep. They depend on the breaking of social and sexual conventions. Now that those conventions have largely been broken anyhow, Orton's plays seem less shocking than they were at the time. Orton liked to be thought of as another Harold Pinter, but somewhat to his horror he found that his admirers included conventional middlebrow playwrights of the day. In fact, Orton's plays do have more in common with the works of these more conventional writer than with Pinter. Perhaps Orton's greatest comic invention were his letters to the editor of various British publications, always written under a false name and always espousing an absurdely conservative point of view. Orton, whether he admitted it or not, needed these conservatives for his plays to work.
Lahr's biography is well researched, and is likely to remain the definitive biography of Orton. Lahr himself has a fluid writing style, and the intelligence to know what to put in and what to leave out. Thus, he avoids swamping the reader with meaningless details as do many American biographers.
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2 of 2 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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