Joe Orton

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John Kingsley ("Joe") Orton (1 January 1933 – 9 August 1967 ) was an English playwright.

In a short but prolific career lasting from 1964 until his death, he shocked, outraged and amused audiences with his scandalous black comedies. Ortonesque became a recognised term for "outrageously macabre".

Contents

Early life

William and Elsie Orton married in 1931. Elsie worked in the local footwear industry until tuberculosis cost her a lung; William worked for Leicester Council as a gardener. Their eldest son John was born at Causeway Lane Maternity Hospital, Leicester, into their working-class family. When he was two years old, they moved from 261 Avenue Road Extension in Clarendon Park, Leicester, to the Saffron Lane council estate. Joe soon had a younger brother, Douglas, and two younger sisters, Marilyn and Leonie.

Orton attended Marriot Road Primary School, but failed the eleven-plus exam after extended bouts of asthma, and so took a secretarial course at Clark's College in Leicester from 1945 to 1947.[1] He then began working as a junior clerk on £3 a week.

Orton became interested in performing in the theatre around 1949 and joined a number of different dramatic societies, including the prestigious Leicester Dramatic Society. While working on amateur productions he was also determined to improve his appearance and physique, buying bodybuilding courses, taking elocution lessons, and trying to redress his lack of education and culture. He applied for a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in November 1950. He was accepted, and left the East Midlands for London. His entrance into RADA was delayed until May 1951 by appendicitis.

Orton met Kenneth Halliwell at RADA in 1951 and moved into a West Hampstead flat with him and two other students in June of that year. Halliwell was seven years older than Orton and of independent means, having a substantial inheritance. They quickly formed a strong relationship and became lovers.

After graduating, both Orton and Halliwell went into regional repertory work: Orton spent four months in Ipswich as an assistant stage manager; Halliwell in Llandudno, Wales. Both returned to London and became writers. They collaborated on a number of unpublished novels (often imitating Ronald Firbank), and had little success. The rejection of their great hope, The Last Days of Sodom, in 1957 led them to solo works. Orton would later return to the books for ideas; many show glimpses of his stage-play style.

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