John Kingsley Orton

Photographers Unknown, Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Thirteen

Sir — As a playgoer of forty years standing, may I say that I heartily agree with Peter Pinnell in his condemnation of ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’. I myself was nauseated by this endless parade of mental and physical perversion. And to be told that such a disgusting piece of filth now passes for humor! Today’s young playwrights take it upon themselves to flaunt their contempt for ordinary decent people. I hope that the ordinary decent people of this country will shortly strike back! Yours truly, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)

—John Kingsley Orton, Letter Sent for Publication under the Alias of Edna Welthorpe

Born in Leicester, England in January of 1933, John Kingsley Orton, known under the pen name of Joe Orton, was a working-class, gay playwright whose outrageous black comedies shocked, outraged, and amused theatre audiences in the 1960s. 

After attending secretarial classes at Clark’s College in Leicester from 1945 to 1947, Joe Orton worked as a junior clerk for three pounds a week. He began performing in theater productions beginning in 1949 and joined several groups, including the Leicester Dramatic Society. Orton was accepted for a scholarship at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in November of 1950; however, due to appendicitis, his entrance was delayed until May of 1951. It was at the Royal Academy that Orton met the seven-year older Kenneth Leith Halliwell, who also was a struggling actor and writer. After moving into a West Hampstead flat, they quickly formed a strong relationship and became lovers.

After graduation, Orton and Halliwell collaborated on writing several novels, which were unsuccessful at  publishing. Due to a lack of serious work, they began to amuse themselves with pranks and hoaxes. From January 1959 to May of 1962, Orton and Halliwell removed books from several local public libraries and began to modify the blurbs and cover art. One volume of poetry by writer and broadcaster John Betjeman was found with a new dust jacket featuring a photograph of a nearly naked, tattooed middle-aged man. Discovered by the authorities in May of 1962 and later found guilty of five counts of theft and malicious damage to seventy books, the two men served six months in prison. A collection of these altered book covers are now housed in the Islington Local History Center.

In 1959, Joe Orton wrote his only novel, which was  posthumously published as “Head to Toe”, and soon began to have success in his plays’ productions. His first play “Fred and Madge” was written in 1959; and “The Visitors” followed two years later. In 1963 the BBC purchased Orton’s radio play “The Ruffian on the Stair”, which was broadcast on August 31st of 1964 and, later in 1966, adapted as a stage play. 

By the end of August, Orton had also completed his play “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”, which premiered on May 6th of 1964 to reviews which ranged from praise to outrage. Although it lost money on its short run, the play tied for first in the Variety Critics’ Poll for Best New Play, and Orton came second in the category for Most Promising Playwright. By 1965, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” was being performed in Spain, Israel, Australia, and New York, as well as being adapted into both a film and television play.

Written between June and October of 1964, Joe Orton’s next play was “Loot”, a wild parody of detective fiction, which added the blackest farce and jabs at established ideas on death, the police, religion, and justice. It underwent sweeping rewrites before it was judged fit for the West End. “Loot” was first staged in London on September 27th of 1966 to rave reviews. In November the play moved to the Criterion Theater where it ran for three hundred forty-two performances, won several awards and firmly established Orton’s fame.

Orton, over the next ten months, revised his “The Ruffian on the Stair” and his “The Erpngham Camp” for the stage as a double play entitled “Crimes of Passion”. He also wrote his television play “Funeral Games”, the screenplay entitled “Up Against It” for the Beatles music group, and his final full-length play “What the Butler Saw”, a play of seduction, blackmail, and cross-dressing, which came to the West End stage in 1969, eighteen months after Orton’s death.

On the 9th of August of 1967, John Kingsley Orton was bludgeoned to death by Kenneth Halliwell at their home in Islington, London, killed by nine hammer blows to the head. Halliwell then committed suicide with an overdose of Nembutal. Later evidence showed that Orton had earlier confided to a friend that he wanted to end his relationship with Halliwell; and it also showed that Halliwell had spoken to his psychiatrist three times on the day of the murder. Halliwell had felt increasingly threatened and isolated by Orton’s success, and had come to rely on barbiturates and antidepressants. The bodies, along with Halliwell’s suicide note, were found on the morning of August 10th by a chauffeur who had arrived to transport Orton for a meeting in London. 

The body of Joe Orton was brought into the chapel of London’s Golders Green Crematorium to a recording of the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life”. Playwright and director Harold Pinter read the eulogy. After Orton’s cremation, his ashes and Halliwell’s ashes were mixed together and scattered in a section of the Garden of Remembrance at Golders Green; no marking memorial stone is erected there. A statue of Joe Orton was later installed in the city of Leicester and, in 1987, a film adaption of John Lahr’s 1978 biography of Orton was released under the title “Prick Up Your Ears”.

Note: For those interested in theater and gay history, an interesting article is Greg Buzwell’s 2019 “Homosexuality, Censorship, and British Drama During the 1950s and 1960s” located at the British Library site: https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/homosexuality-censorship-and-british-drama-during-the-1950s-and-1960s

Albert Russo: “Dramatis Personae”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Twelve

They call me Gianni
They call me Jim
But also Dominic
In both genders
In every guise

Whether it be Gianni, Jim or Dominic
In the present tense as in the past
First or third person
We’re talking of the same person
With the difference that each one
Speaks in another tongue
Confounding strangers
Claims the spiteful gossip

At time Gianni and Jim will be one and the same
At times they will oppose each other
Sometimes they might act as total strangers
And so it goes for both Dominics

The distance between them may be paper thin
Or else wide as the ocean
That which separates two languages
Or lies, mute, within the blood cells

Albert Russo, Dramatis Personae, The Crowded World of Solitude, Vol. 2

Born in February, 1943, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Albert Russo is a poet, short story writer, novelist and photographer. The son of a British mother and an Italian Sephardic father, he attended the high school in Bujumbura, a coastal city in Burundi, where he mastered four languages: French, English, Dutch, German, and vernacular Swahili. Russo earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration at New York University in 1964  He traveled to Heidelberg in 1965, where he earned a degree in German culture and literature at the Collegium Palatinum. 

Russo first began writing poems in English in 1964 during his years at New York University. In 1965, he settled in Milan, Italy, where he  worked at the family firm and continued his writing. His first novel entitled “La Pointe du Diable”, written in French, was published in 1973 in Brussels. For this work, Russo won the Prix Colette in Cannes and the Prix de la Liberté in Paris. 

In 1975, Albert Russo returned to New York for three years. During this period, he taught language classes and published several poems and short stories in a variety of international magazines, including The Literary Review, Culture Française, La Libre Belgique, and Revue Zaire. Russo also worked with UNICEF translating scripts for children’s documentary films. He returned to Europe in 1978  and settled in Paris. 

Albert Russo has written more than twenty-five works, translated into twelve languages. His main themes are the defense of individual and collective rights, including ethnic, gender and religious, and the fight against racism. Many of his works are centered around life in Africa; two of which are“Mixed Blood” and “Eclipse over Lake Tanganyika”, both published in 2000. Russo wrote a large two-volume series entitled “The Crowded World of Solitude”, the first volume which includes short stories, essays, and fables: the second volume contains forty year collection of poems. 

During the 1980s, through their common Congolese experience and love for Africa, Russo met and befriended Italian artist and philosopher Joseph Pace. Later in the 2999s, he became friends with poet and photographer Adam Donaldson Powell. Together they authored the 2009 “Gaytude”, a volume of poetry, with photographs by Russo, which dealt with the gay experience of life on five continents.

As a professional photographer, Albert Russo has earned several prizes, including winning a National Indie-Excellence award and a silver medal from a Gallery Photografica competition. His photographic work has been shown at Switzerland’s Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. In 2019, Russo won a UNICEF Award for his poetry oeuvre and, in 2020, an Artavita Certificate for his photography.

Mutsuo Takahashi: “Clean as Leather, Lustful as a Lily”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Eleven

“Sleeping Wrestler
You are a murderer
No you are not, but really a wrestler
Either way it’s just the same
For from the ring of your entangled body
Clean as leather, lustful as a lily
Will nail me down
On your stout neck like a column, like a pillar of tendons
The thoughtful forehead
(In fact, it’s thinking nothing)
When the forehead slowly moves and closes the heavy eyelids
Inside, a dark forest awakens
A forest of red parrots
Seven almonds and grape leaves
At the end of the forest a vine
Covers the house where two boys
Lie in each others arms: I’m one of them, you the other
In the house, melancholy and terrible anxiety
Outside the keyhole, a sunset
Dyed with the blood of the beautiful bullfighter Escamillo
Scorched by the sunset, headlong, headfirst
Falling, falling, a gymnast
If you’re going to open your eyes, nows the time, wrestler”

—Mutsuo Takahashi, Sleeping Wrestler, Poems of a Penisist, 2012

Born in December of 1937 in the Fukuoka Prefecture of Japan, Mutsuo Takahashi is a poet, essayist and writer, known especially for his open writing about male homoeroticism. He spent his early years in the countryside of Japan. At three months old, Takahashi lost his father to pneumonia and was left, along with his sisters, by his mother in the care of his grandparents. After his mother returned from mainland China, the family moved to the port town of Moji, just as the air raids by the Allied Powers of World War Two intensified. It was at this time, watching the war in action with his classmates, that Takahashi  became aware of his sexual identity, which became a common subject in his first book of poetry published in 1959.

Takahashi graduated from the Fukuoka University of Education, after which he moved to Tokyo in 1962. He continued writing poetry while employed at an advertising company. His first book, published in 1964, was “Rose Tree, Fake Lovers”, an anthology that described male to male erotic love in bold and direct language. Takahashi sent the collection to novelist Yukio Mishima who helped promote Takahashi’s work; a close relationship and friendship resulted that lasted until Mishima’s suicide in 1970.

During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a large existential trend in the literature and culture of Japan, which included an interest in eroticism. In collaboration with his two friends, surreal poet Chimako Tada and poet Shigeo Washisu, Mutsuo Takahashi created the literary journal “The Symposium (Kyōen)”, named after Plato’s famous dialogue.

Written in free verse through the 1970s, Takahashi’s poetry used homoeroticism as an important theme. An example of this is his long poem Ode (Homeuta)”, an epic one-thousand line erotic fantasy poem published by Winston Leyland. He also started writing prose at this time: the 1970 “Twelve Views from the Distance” about his early life, a 1972 surrealistic novella based on his trip to the gay underground of New York City entitled “A Legend of a Holy Place”, and the 1974 “Zen’s Pilgrimage of Virtue”, a homoerotic and humorous retelling of the Buddhist legend of Sudhana.

Traveling through the world, Mutsuo Takahashi broaden his themes by incorporating his knowledge of the history of world literature and art, often including poems of homage to important writers in his collections. In 2010, he produced a small book of poems to accompany an exhibition which presented the work of American assemblage artist and filmmaker Joseph Cornell. Still actively using free style verse,Takahashi also wrote traditional Japanese verse and novels, Nō and Kyōgen plays, works of literary criticism, and a libretto written for an opera by composer Akira Miyoshi.

Residing presently in the seaside city of Zushi, Mutsuo Takahashi has been the recipient of a number of literary prizes in Japan, including the Yomiuri Literay Prize, the Takami Jun Prize, the Modern Poetry Hanatsubaki Prize, and, in 2000, the prestigious Kunshō Award fo his contributions to modern Japanese literature.

James Baldwin: “Giovanni’s Room”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Ten

“Giovanni had awakened an itch, had released a gnaw in me. I realized it one afternoon, when I was taking him to work via the Boulevard Montparnasse. We had bought a kilo of cherries and we were eating them as we walked along. We were both insufferably childish and high-spirited that afternoon and the spectacle we presented, two grown men jostling each other on the wide sidewalk and aiming the cherry pits, as though they were spitballs, into each other’s faces, must have been outrageous. And I realized that such childishness was fantastic at my age and the happiness out of which it sprang yet more so; for that moment I really loved Giovanni, who had never seemed more beautiful than he was that afternoon.” 

—James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

Born in New York City in August of 1924, James Arthur Baldwin was an essayist, novelist, and playwright whose eloquence and passion on the subject of race in America made him an important voice, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, in the United States and through western Europe.

Disillusioned by the racial prejudice in the United States, James Baldwin emigrated in November of 1948, at the age of twenty-four, to Paris where he became involved in the cultural radicalism of the Left Bank, an area of artists, writers, and philosophers. In 1949, he met and fell in love with the young Swiss painter Lucien Happersberger, becoming life-long partners. 

While staying at the Happersberger family chalet in Switzerland with Lucien  during the winter of 1951-1952, James Baldwin completed his first novel “Go Tell It on the Mountain”, which was published in early 1953. Over the next two years, while living mostly in France, he worked on his second novel “Giovanni’s Room”. In 1956 after Knopf Publishers decided not to publish this second book, Baldwin allowed Dial Press to publish the novel, dedicated to Happersberger, in the United States, and publisher Michael Joseph in the United Kingdom.

James Baldwin made his home primarily in the southern section of France, but often returned to the United States to lecture or teach. In 1957, he began to spend half of each year in New York City. Baldwin and Happersberger lived together in their house in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Provence, France, for many years until Baldwin’s death, with Happersberger by his side, from cancer in November of 1987. James Baldwin was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City.

“Giovanni’s Room”, with its complex narrative of love and desire, became James Baldwin’s most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. Due to its explicit homoerotic content, it caused great controversy when it was first published in 1956. The book is noteworthy for bringing complex representations of homosexuality and bisexuality to the reading public with artistry and empathy, lacking in most of the contemporary literary treatments, and thus broadening the public discussion regarding same-sex desire.

“Giovanni’s Room” focuses on events in the life of an American man living in Paris and his feelings, and his frustrations, in the relationships he has with other men in his life, particularly Giovanni, a bar keep at a Parisian gay bar. In this novel, Baldwin explores themes of social alienation, self-identity, masculinity, and manhood, expressed through relationships and learned public behavior. Though it is considered a gay novel,  Baldwin has stated on occasion that the novel is not so much about homosexuality, but about what happens if you are so afraid that you finally can not love anybody.. 

For additional information from the National Museum of African American History and Culture:

https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/baldwin-switzerland

https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog/series/stories-chez-baldwin

Gary Snyder: “The Blue Mountains March Out of the Sea”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Nine

“The blue mountains are constantly walking.” Dōgen is quoting the Chan master Furong. — “If you doubt mountains walking you do not know your own walking.”

— Dōgen is not concerned with “sacred mountains” – or pilgrimages, or spirit allies, or wilderness as some special quality. His mountains and streams are the processes of this earth, all of existence, process, essence, action, absence; they roll being and non-being together. They are what we are, we are what they are. For those who would see directly into essential nature, the idea of the sacred is a delusion and an obstruction: it diverts us from seeing what is before our eyes: plain thusness. Roots, stems, and branches are all equally scratchy. No hierarchy, no equality. No occult and exoteric, no gifted kids and slow achievers. No wild and tame, no bound or free, no natural and artificial. Each totally its own frail self. Even though connected all which ways; even because connected all which ways. This, thusness, is the nature of the nature of nature. The wild in wild.

So the blue mountains walk to the kitchen and back to the shop, to the desk, to the stove. We sit on the park bench and let the wind and rain drench us. The blue mountains walk out to put another coin in the parking meter, and go down to the 7-Eleven. The blue mountains march out of the sea, shoulder the sky for a while, and slip back to into the waters.” 

—-Gary Snyder, Practice of the Wild

Arthur Schopenhauer: “Human Nature”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Eight

“If human nature were not base, but thoroughly honorable, we should in every debate have no other aim than the discovery of truth; we should not in the least care whether the truth proved to be in favor of the opinion which we had begun by expressing, or of the opinion of our adversary. That we should regard as a matter of no moment, or, at any rate, of very secondary consequence; but, as things are, it is the main concern. Our innate vanity, which is particularly sensitive in reference to our intellectual powers, will not suffer us to allow that our first position was wrong and our adversary’s right.

The way out of this difficulty would be simply to take the trouble always to form a correct judgment. For this a man would have to think before he spoke. But, with most men, innate vanity is accompanied by loquacity and innate dishonesty. They speak before they think; and even though they may afterwards perceive that they are wrong, and that what they assert is false, they want it to seem the contrary. The interest in truth, which may be presumed to have been their only motive when they stated the proposition alleged to be true, now gives way to the interests of vanity: and so, for the sake of vanity, what is true must seem false, and what is false must seem true.” 

—Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Always Being Right

Joseph Campbell: ” Your Dreams Are Composed by an Aspect of Yourself”

The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Seven

“Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called “On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual”, points out when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggest that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, you will have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others. The whole thing gears together as one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.”

—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Thomas Mann” “Perfect Clarity in Ambiguity”

The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Six

“In our opinion, it is analytically correct, although—to use Hans Castorp’s phrase—“terribly gauche” and downright life-denying, to make a “tidy” distinction between sanctity and passion in matters of love. What’s this about “tidy”? What’s this about gentle irresolution and ambiguity? Isn’t it grand, isn’t it good, that language has only one word for everything we associate with love – from utter sanctity to the most fleshly lust? The result is perfect clarity in ambiguity, for love cannot be disembodied even in its most sanctified forms, nor is it without sanctity even at its most fleshly. Love is always simply itself, both as a subtle affirmation of life and as the highest passion; love is our sympathy with organic life, the touchingly lustful embrace of what is destined to decay – caritas is assuredly found in the most admirable and most depraved passions. Irresolute? But in God’s good name, leave the meaning of love unresolved! Unresolved – that is life and humanity, and it would betray a dreary lack of subtlety to worry about it.”
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

 

Blaise Pascal: “He Sees Light; He Feels Bodies”

The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Five (Blacks and Whites)

“If man made himself the first object of study, he would see how incapable he is of going further. How can a part know the whole? But he may perhaps aspire to know at least the parts to which he bears some proportion. But the parts of the world are all so related and linked to one another, that I believe it impossible to know one without the other and without the whole.

Man, for instance, is related to all he knows. He needs a place wherein to abide, time through which to live, motion in order to live, elements to compose him, warmth and food to nourish him, air to breathe. He sees light; he feels bodies; in short, he is in a dependant alliance with everything. To know man, then, it is necessary to know how it happens that he needs air to live, and, to know the air, we must know how it is thus related to the life of man, etc. Flame cannot exist without air; therefore to understand the one, we must understand the other.

Since everything then is cause and effect, dependant and supporting, mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though imperceptible chain, which binds together things most distant and most different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole, and to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.”
Blaise Pascal

 

José Saramago: “All the Names”

The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Four

“Don’t be afraid, the darkness you’re in is no greater than the darkness inside your own body, they are two darknesses separated by a skin, I bet you’ve never thought of that, you carry a darkness about with you all the time and that doesn’t frighten you…my dear chap, you have to learn to live with the darkness outside just as you learned to live with the darkness inside” 

José Saramago, All the Names

Ruth Benedict: “Patterns of Culture”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Three

“A culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action. Each people further and further consolidates its experience, and in proportion to the urgency of these drives, the heterogenous items of behaviour take more and more congruous shape.

Such patterning of culture cannot be ignored as if it were an unimportant detail. The whole, as modern science is insisting in many fields, is not merely the sum of all its parts, but the result of a unique arrangement and interrelation of the parts that has brought about a new entity.”

― Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture

Ruth Benedict: “An Unique Arrangement”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Two

The whole, as modern science is insisting in many fields, is not merely the sum of all its parts, but the result of an unique arrangement and interrelation of the parts that has brought about a new entity.”.

― Ruth Benedict, Patterns and Culture

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “What Does Reason Know?”

The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set One

“Here I, for instance, quite naturally want to live, in order to satisfy all my capacities for life, and not simply my capacity for reasoning, that is, not simply one twentieth of my capacity for life. What does reason know? Reason only knows what it has succeeded in learning (some things, perhaps, it will never learn; this is a poor comfort, but why not say so frankly?) and human nature acts as a whole, with everything that is in it, consciously or unconsciously, and, even it if goes wrong, it lives.”

―Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground