This Day In Literary History
On October 10th, 1930, the legendary English playwright and screenwriter Harold Pinter was born in Hackney, East London, England. At the age of ten, Pinter found himself caught up in the terror and chaos of the Blitz. It would have a lasting effect on him as both a human being and as a writer.
When he wasn't caught up in the war, Pinter attended Hackney Downs School, a grammar school in London, where he discovered his talents for writing and acting. He wrote for the school magazine and played Macbeth and Romeo in school productions of the Shakespeare plays.
Pinter excelled in athletics as well. He was an avid cricket player and runner. As a runner, he broke his school's sprinting record, but his passion was cricket. He would serve as chairman of the Gaieties Cricket Club.
In 1948, at the age of eighteen, Pinter began studying drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. A year later, he was drafted for military service but declared himself a conscientious objector.
He did this not because he was a pacifist, but because he loathed the Cold War and believed that the governments of England and the United States were just as corrupt and immoral as the Soviet Union. After being tried twice as a draft evader, he was given a fine.
Disliking the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Pinter transferred to the Central School of Speech and Drama. By 1951, he had joined the Anew McMaster repertory company and begun his career as an actor.
For the next five years, taking the stage name David Baron, Pinter played over twenty roles in the company's productions. To supplement his income, he worked at various jobs including that of a waiter, a postman, and a pub bouncer.
Though he was making a name for himself as an actor, Harold Pinter's real ambition was to be a writer. The actor Henry Woolf, a close childhood friend, encouraged Pinter to write his first play and then starred in it - as part of his postgraduate work.
The play, The Room (1957), caught the attention of a young producer named Michael Codron, who would stage a production of Pinter's next play, a breakout work that made Pinter's name as a playwright.
In The Birthday Party (1958), a surreal dark comedy, Stanley Webber, a disheveled piano player in his late thirties, lives in a seaside boarding house run by Meg and Petey, a couple in their sixties.
Meg exhibits strange affection for Stanley; sometimes she flirts with him, sometimes she acts like his mother. One morning, Meg wishes Stanley a happy birthday and gives him a present - a toy drum.
Stanley tries to convince her that it's not his birthday, but she won't listen. She has planned a party which includes some unusual guests - McCann and Goldberg, two strangers to Stanley who may be dangerously psychotic - or maybe it's Stanley who's mad...
Although it's now considered Pinter's first masterwork, The Birthday Party was trashed by most critics when it debuted in 1958. The famous drama critic Irving Wardle gave it a glowing review in which he called it a "comedy of menace." Unfortunately, the review was published just after the play closed.
Undaunted, Harold Pinter kept writing. His next play, The Dumb Waiter (1959), opened in Germany before it hit the London stage. It was a two character play. The characters are Ben and Gus, two hit men waiting in a basement room to receive their orders for their next hit.
While they wait, Ben and Gus make tea and engage in conversations where they argue semantics and discuss the stories in the newspaper that Ben is reading. Meanwhile, in the background, the dumb waiter in the room occasionally - and strangely - opens to deliver food orders.
Ben tries to explain via the dumb waiter's speaking tube that the orders were sent to the wrong room. At the play's climax, the speaking tube whistles and Ben answers it while Gus is getting a drink of water in the bathroom. It's their orders for their next hit. The play ends with Ben drawing his gun on the target - Gus.
Harold Pinter would write nearly thirty plays and fifteen sketches. Between 1968 and 1982, he wrote a series of "memory plays" that explored the nature of memory - its vagaries, ambiguities, and mysteries.
Pinter also wrote 27 screenplays, adapting his plays and the works of others for the screen. He won an Academy Award for his 1981 screenplay adaptation of John Fowles' novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman.
In October of 2005, Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The award came as quite a shock to right wingers around the world. A prominent liberal political activist, Pinter railed against the Cold War arms race, nuclear weapons, the blockade of Cuba, the South African apartheid regime, the Gulf War, and the later wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He believed that the George W. Bush administration "was charging towards world domination while the American public and Britain's mass-murdering prime minister sat back and watched." Pinter described the war in Iraq as "a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the conception of international law."
The most controversial aspect of Pinter's political activism was his strong rebuke of the Israeli government for its persecution of the Palestinian people. Although Jewish himself, he expressed his contempt for the Israeli regime, signing the mission statement of the activist group Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
Harold Pinter was also awarded the French Légion d'honneur. He died of liver cancer in 2008 at the age of 78.
Quote Of The Day
"Good writing excites me, and makes life worth living." - Harold Pinter
Today's video features Harold Pinter giving his Nobel lecture. Enjoy!