Joe Orton (born John Kingsley Orton) was an English playwright and author. Although his career was only short, he is acknowledged as one of the most influential playwrights of the 1960s.
Orton was born in Leicester and, after working as a junior clerk, was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) on a scholarship. While at RADA he met Kenneth Halliwell, who became his artistic collaborator and his lover. After graduating, Orton and Halliwell lived a hand-to-mouth existence, surviving on unemployment benefits and spending months writing together. The two men were arrested and spent six months in prison for theft and malicious damage after stealing books from public libraries and replacing or defacing the covers.
Following his release from prison, Orton experienced his first success with his plays. The BBC produced his radio play The Ruffian on the Stair in 1964 and Orton then rewrote it for the stage two years later. In May 1964, Entertaining Mr. Sloane premiered at London’s New Arts Theatre and was a huge success, despite sparking a great deal of controversy. The play had a short, unsuccessful Broadway run in October of the same year. Orton followed his success with Loot, which opened with a short provincial tour which was poorly received.The following year, Orton reworked the play and it opened in London in September 1966 to rave reviews. However. as with Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Loot was poorly received on Broadway in 1968. Orton’s final full-length play, What the Butler Saw, premiered in London’s West End in 1969, eighteen months after his death.
Orton was murdered by Kenneth Halliwell in their London home on August 9, 1967.
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