Celebrated playwright Harold Pinter dies

26th December 2008, Comments 0 comments

Pinter’s more than 50 years of literary achievement were crowned with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.

London -- Harold Pinter, the anti-establishment dramatist and political campaigner whose death at age 78 was announced Thursday, was widely regarded as one of Britain's greatest contemporary playwrights.

Pinter, a radical never afraid to speak his mind, mixed passion with moral vigor and employed irony, brilliant rhetoric and black humor in dialogues peppered with pregnant pauses and suspense in what became known as the "Pinteresque drama."

"How can you write a happy play?" asked Pinter. Drama is about conflict and degrees of perturbation, disarray."

His more than 50 years of literary achievement were crowned with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, which said Pinter's work "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."

Pinter, who suffered from cancer of the esophagus, was too ill to collect the award in person. Instead, he used his acceptance speech, broadcast by video-link to the Swedish Academy, for a devastating assault on US foreign policy -- and Britain's subscription to it.

For the wheelchair-bound Pinter, it was to become his final reckoning with the perceived immorality of postwar US foreign policy -- and the failure of the media to expose it.

After writing 29 plays, he was "exhausted" and would focus on other forms of writing, mainly poetry, Pinter said on turning 75, in October, 2005.

A year later, he returned to the stage one last time as an actor at London's Royal Court Theatre, where many of his plays were shown, and where he had begun his acting career as an understudy half a century earlier.

Pinter's role as Krapp in Samuel Beckett's haunting play Krapp's Last Tape, in which he plays a solitary old man reflecting on life by listening to recordings of his younger self, confirmed once more the close literary kinship and personal friendship between the two writers - with Pinter often described as the Irishman's literary heir.

After publishing poetry as a teenager and acting in school plays, Pinter began his theatrical career in the mid-1950's as a rep actor using the stage name David Baron.

Pinter's first play, The Room (1957) contained many of the elements that have characterized his later works: a commonplace situation gradually invested with menace and mystery through the deliberate omission of an explanation or motivation for the action.

His first full-length play, The Birthday Party, was initially a disaster and taken off the stage after just a week, but Pinter continued to write at a prolific rate.

It was his next play, The Caretaker (1960), which established Pinter's reputation as one of Britain's foremost new dramatists and brought him international fame.

Several more works followed in quick succession and in 1965, one of his most famous plays, The Homecoming, was published.

Pinter also wrote extensively for radio and the cinema, including screenplays for The Servant (1963), The Last Tycoon (1974) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981).

But he was also well known for his uncompromising political beliefs. He turned down the offer of a knighthood from former conservative Prime Minister John Major, and called Tony Blair a "deluded idiot" for joining the "mass murdering" in Iraq.

In 2003, he published a collection of anti-war poems in response to the Iraq war, after earlier protests against the NATO bombing of Serbia, and the suppression of authors in Turkey, which he toured with Arthur Miller in the mid-1980s.

Pinter was born the son of Jewish parents of Eastern European ancestry in Hackney, East London, on October 10, 1930. His father was a ladies' tailor and Harold, an only child, shone at English at the local state school, published poetry and acted in school plays.

His childhood was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when he was evacuated from his Hackney home to rural Cornwall -- a traumatic experience which Pinter said left him with memories of loneliness, bewilderment and loss.

But the separation from his parents also proved a source for his active imagination and introspection. He was 14 before he returned to London, by which point he had developed a love of the works of Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway.

Demonstrating his refusal to conform, he was fined by magistrates in 1949 for refusing to complete his national service.

"I could have gone to prison -- I took my toothbrush to the trials -- but it so happened that the magistrate was slightly sympathetic, so I was fined instead," he said.

The writer's private life made headlines when he married historian Antonia Fraser in 1980 after leaving his first wife, actress Vivien Merchant, whom he wed in 1956, and with whom he had a son.

His 1978 play Betrayal was partly based on his affair with broadcaster Joan Bakewell, which lasted seven years and ended in 1969.

In 2002, Pinter he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and underwent a course of chemotherapy, which he called a "personal nightmare".

"While in many respects I have certain characteristics that I had then, I'm also a very changed man," he said. "But I don't think I can define precisely how I've changed."

In December, 2007, Pinter, keen to secure his legacy for the nation, sold his archive, comprising more than 150 boxes of manuscripts and letters, to the British Library for 1.1 million pounds (2.2 million dollars).


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