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Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton
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Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  720 ratings  ·  29 reviews
John Lahr—New Yorker critic, novelist, and biographer of his father Bert Lahr (Notes on a Cowardly Lion)—reconstructs both the life and death of Joe Orton in another extraordinary biography that was chosen Book of the Year by Truman Capote and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Patrick White when it first appeared in 1978.

"I have high hopes of dying in my prime," Joe Orton confi
Paperback, 315 pages
Published October 30th 2000 by University of California Press (first published November 12th 1978)
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Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: big-white-square
John Lahr has the first and last word on Joe Orton, and it doesn't feel right. I've read his foreword to Orton's diary, his foreword to Orton's collected works and this, his Orton biography. I'm thinking:
1) Lahr's narrative is so powerful that when Lahr interviews people for a BBC documentary (youtube), they tell the same anecdotes back at him as he set them down in the biography. I'm suspicious. Doesn't anyone have a different take? Lahr seems to avoid a "this is my assessment of Joe Orton" app
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gay-lit, pre-1983
A heterosexist, lazy biography of Orton overly reliant upon Lahr’s pop-psychology reading of Orton’s plays as texts for his life and shockingly dull to boot. Admittedly, Orton was young and his career as a successful playwright in its infancy at the time of his death, so Lahr had to look elsewhere to fill out his book. Outside of a few interviews, his work for the book seems to have solely consisted of access to Orton’s diaries and correspondence, coupled with his literary and psychology reading ...more
Adam Dunn
Jan 14, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: glbt
Having just finished this book, I feel it’s a shame there’s only one memoir on Orton and that it was written by Lahr. With limited material there isn’t likely to be another. You really only get one chance with these things and while the book is very well researched, I get the sense that every available material and interview on Orton was utilized, I don’t know that Lahr was right for the job.
The book starts with Orton and Halliwell’s death and then kind of starts at the beginning with all things
Nov 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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-you
Apr 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
It's not just the biog of Joe Orton - it's as much about Kenneth Halliwell, the "middle-aged non-entity" that killed him. Both of their lives are interesting and feintly depressing. Orton's world - from his working class beginnings with his brow-beaten, unloving father and a slightly insane, highly strung mother and the brother and sister that he hated, right down to his sexual escapades in toilets and deserted buildings. Then Halliwell, who was with his mum when she dropped dead after being stu ...more
Annette Johnson
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Love all the Orton works and regret his life came to such an abrupt end. This diary is honest, crude, and very informative. Loved the photos as well. I was a bit put off by the casual sex-not the stuff in Britain, but the use of young men and boys on holiday. But the recounting of Orton's home life, the neighbors, family, etc. made him very real.
Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Reads like a book report and borrows liberally from Orton's diary. What Lahr contributes to the book about Orton is very little. Aside from the first chapter, the book lacks much "biographical" information, and Lahr get too wrapped up in bring a theatre critic.
Apr 02, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay
Don't get me wrong - this biography is very meticulous in its exploration of Orton and his works. Very meticulous indeed. So meticulous in fact that it takes up about two thirds of the book. The other third covers Orton's and Halliwell's relationship revealing little that isn't in the public domain already or on the internet. If you are serious about Orton's works buy this book - if you want an in depth biography you may need to buy something else. Try Simon Shepherd's book 'Because we're Queers ...more
Mar 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fantastic. You don't need to be a fan of Joe Orton's plays (but if you are, all the better) to enjoy this excellent biography by long-standing New Yorker theater critic John Lahr. The great thing is that it doesn't just focus on Orton's grisly end -- he was killed by his longtime lover, Kenneth Halliwell, in a murder-suicide -- but delves into the histories of both men, their decade-plus relationship, Orton's thunderstrike of a career, etc. The movie, starring Gary Oldman and Alfred M ...more
Apr 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
i heart joe orton. he is such a clever and iconoclastic playwright. this biography is insightful and his life was extreme and dramatic. the psychology of his relationship with his partner, Kenneth, and the evolution of his talent as a writer totally make this book. you can also gain a lot of insight into the nature of talent and creativity from reading about his and Kenneth's lives. even if you don't know who he is, or even if he was never famous, reading about him would be enthralling.
Colin Sloan
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Orton flaunted his talents with bravado and flew too close to the sun by provoking his jealous lover with his outrageous behaviour. He was precocious, licentious and vain, but surely one of the most gifted playwrights since Christopher Marlowe. His murder renders me towards bias as to whether he would have gone on to greater achievements.
Kris Hallett
Sep 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
absolutely stunning in its literary study of each of Orton's plays but then reads like trashy pulp fiction when its contemplating the relationship that leads to murder. Perhaps understandably his years up to first success glossed over but seeing as that is almost his entire life this seems somewhat of a shame. Read to understand the plays, pick up diary to understand the man.
Allen Svec
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book before seeing the movie by the same name was perfect. I have always loved the swinging 60's in London as a very definite era that changed taste in music, fashion, language, literature, movies...this includes the beginning of The Beatles, and the hip London Theatre scene,
Joe Orton got by on his charm, sex appeal, and wit while living with the exact opposite.
Peadaar Morrissy
Jun 29, 2011 rated it did not like it
Joe Orton produced some amazing plays for theatre, we know that. If I had known that John Lahr would go into so much detail about these 4 plays then I would never EVER bought the book ...

The parts about Joe's lie were fascinating but John Lahr could have got them into 80 pages !!!
Nov 01, 2012 rated it liked it
The title is misleading - ie this is not so much a biography of Orton as the story of his plays. Whilst it's worth reading, especially in conjunction with the diaries, I would have preferred to read more about the man than his work.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it did not like it
I enjoyed the Orton Diaries so much, but this biography just seemed like a lot of very hard work. Useful for garnering information, otherwise a very dry opposed to moist, I suppose, or fruity.
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous. If you are a Joe Orton fan, I'd be surprised if you haven't read this. John Lahr is a beautiful biographer. Sad, funny, inspiring, real and hard to believe, all at once. Fact is better than fiction. Wish I had the balls to be a fly on Joe's wall. Incredibly informative. A must read!
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
fantastic weird british working class fag biography. the playwright not enough people know about.

definitely see the movie based on this book. unbelievable performances by gary oldman and alfred molina.
Sep 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Every gay theater arts person needs to read this book and see the movie. It is a great piece of gay history about who could have been the best gay playwrigt of all time. The Arthur Miller of the theatre world. I really like this author and appreciate the research that he did for this book.
Mar 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Excellent study of the enigmatic Orton. A must-read for fans, a great and interesting tale for everyone else. Orton's spectacular rise and murder are detailed here in Mr. Lahr's deeply felt portrait.
Elizabeth Greenhill
Jul 09, 2007 added it
Recommends it for: kowhai montgomery
It about Joe Orton, a tortured, talented gay man (with a liking for cottaging) on the tip of becoming massively famous writing beatles song when he was battered to death by his lover.
Feb 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biografía
Larguísimas y pesadísimas disquisiciones en torno a la farsa. Para fanáticos del teatro o de la obra de este señor.
Hugh Minor
I didn't really read it. But I read the introduction and the first chapter which seemed like plenty.
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and completely engrossing. A brilliant read - highly recommend!
Mar 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous read about a life snuffed out too damned soon.
Oct 23, 2012 added it
I've given up on this.
Frankie Smith
Aug 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
the defaced library books, the mischievous letters and the flat decor.
rated it really liked it
Mar 26, 2018
rated it liked it
Sep 23, 2009
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John Lahr is the senior drama critic of The New Yorker, where he has written about theatre and popular culture since 1992. Among his eighteen books are Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr and Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton, which was made into a film.

He has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. Lahr, whose stage adaptations have been perfor