Saturday, May 18, 2013
The Tale of Two Lovers
With his mischievous grin and saucy wit, Joe Orton could get away with just about anything.
So when the working class 20-something Brit moved to London to try his luck at acting, nobody questioned it.
Although he was a fair actor, with impressive physique and genuine charisma, it soon became clear the stage wasn't meant for Joe. He was an incredibly talented writer and his dark, dry humor shocked and delighted everyone who read his essays or short stories.
In 1951, Joe met and fell in love with an older, middle-class guy, Kenneth Halliwell, who seemed lonely and lost. Life hadn't been very fair to Kenneth. When he was 11, he had watched in horror as his mother was stung by a wasp and choked to death in front of him. When he was 23, he woke up one morning to find his father dead from a suicide in the kitchen, his head still in the gas oven. Both incidents had left the shy kid devastated.
Joe and Kenneth felt a deep understanding to one another. Joe, being so outgoing and joyful, brought Kenneth back to life. Kenneth, reserved and observant, brought out a more serious side in Joe. It was a perfect match.
The two started writing stories together, such as Lord Cucumber and the Boy Hairdresser. Their honest and humorous accounts of homosexuality raised eyebrows but didn't get them published at the time.
Bored by their lack of success, the two young men became pranksters.
In their spare time, they stole more than 70 books from the public library and defaced the covers before returning them. For example, on one cover they drew a naked middle-aged man with tattoos. Unfortunately, the library system didn't think the vandalized covers were very funny and both men were prosecuted. They spent six months in jail.
While Joe was in jail, something about being alone in a cell changed him. He had hours upon hours to think creatively and ponder about the world. His writing started to change. It became more mature and fresh and exciting. By the time he was released from jail, Joe was a changed man.
He started publishing unique and hilarious plays, such as Loot, which were gaining national attention. Critics either loved or hated him. Celebrities wanted to hang out with him. It was swinging sixties London and he was one of the hottest figures in town.
Unfortunately, his boyfriend couldn't bring himself to bask in the success.
Kenneth grew more and more jealous of Joe's growing fame and talent. He was bitter that Joe seemed to have moved on professionally, away from him. Whatever happened to writing stories together? He felt left behind, even though he was always at Joe's side, invited to the hottest parties and traveling the world on exotic vacations.
Kenneth started taking anti-depressants to ease the pain. His sulky, resentful attitude turned off most of Joe's new famous friends, who would invite the hot 30-something playwright to parties on the condition that Kenneth had to stay home. The two men began to grow distant.
On a warm August night in 1967, Joe decided he was going to break up with Kenneth the next day. After all, their lives were going in opposite directions. Joe had already fallen in love with another guy and wanted to see where that relationship went. It wouldn't be fair to string Kenneth along anymore. Plus, Joe was on top of the world. Tomorrow, he would be meeting with The Beatles to discuss a screenplay he had written for them.
But tomorrow never came.
While Joe slept, Kenneth took a hammer and bashed his boyfriend's skull nine times. Blood splattered all over the bed, the walls, and the floor. Then, Kenneth took an overdose of pills, killing himself instantly.
Heartbreakingly, Joe remained alive in his bed for several agonizing hours, before finally succumbing to death himself. The bodies of both men were found by their chauffeur the next morning.
Today, it still remains one of the most gory and disturbing crime scenes in London's history.
And just like he feared all along, Kenneth has been forgotten. He is merely a footnote in literary history.
The muse and murderer to a brilliant mind that was simply crushed too soon.