Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Birthday: "I mean, don't forget the earth's about five thousand million years old, at least. Who can afford to live in the past?"


Harold Pinter (1930-2008)
Playwright, screenwriter, actor, director, poet, character
Recipient, The Nobel Prize for Literature, 2005
Recipient, The French Legion of Honor, 2007
Companion of Honor, Commander of the British Empire, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

He grew up in London and was a popular schoolboy, good at games. His school days left him with a lifelong, almost mythic, notion of male friendship that complicated his relationships with women to no end.  

Harold Pinter went to acting school, hated it, feigned a nervous breakdown, and withdrew. He refused two calls to military service as an objector and paid a fine.

He tried drama school again; then he spent twelve years as a journeyman actor-waiter-postman-bouncer-and snow clearer.

By the mid-fifties he had in mind writing plays; it took his marriage to actress Vivien Merchant in 1956 to create the well-ordered household in which he could ignore everyone to concentrate on his work. The Birthday Party (1957) marked him as a coming force in the British Angry Young Men market (even though it closed after only eight days), and he eventually wrote twenty-eight more plays, often seeing several on the boards at once.

He wrote nearly thirty screenplays and films scripts, acted in dozens of films, won the Wilfred Owen Prize for poetry, and produced tracts and jeremiads on scores of social causes that engaged his interest.

Though his work also provided steady stage work for his wife,  Pinter carried on a number of extramarital affairs, the most successful of which was with the writer,Lady Antonia Fraser, who became his second wife in 1970 (because of last-minute delays in the divorce paperwork, the reception was held two weeks before the wedding).

By all accounts the marriage was a happy one; Pinter reveled in the large step-family he inherited, though his son by his first marriage changed his surname and skipped his father’s funeral. His public personality ran the gamut from abrasive to spiky, and his pronouncements on political issues led many to contend the man had no moral compass other than outrage. Pinter’s Nobel Prize lecture was widely denounced as a vintage, one act, anti American period piece right out of the 1960s.

Over his fifty-year career, Pinter had an enormous influence on British arts and letters: so much so, that his playwriting style inspired a neologism, “Pinteresque.”

He detested the word and said it was utterly devoid of meaning.

Pinter’s last years were plagued by various outbreaks of cancer and exotic sideline ailments, but he pressed on, celebrating fiftieth-anniversary revivals of several of his early works, appearing on radio, and writing- furiously, in every sense of the term.

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