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Overview for Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter



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Also Known As: David Baron,Harold Pinta Died: December 24, 2008
Born: October 10, 1930 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Hackney, England, GB Profession: Writer ... playwright screenwriter director poet actor novelist


The preeminent playwright of his generation, Harold Pinter honed his literary skills during his twenties, traveling the lonely countrysides of Britain and Ireland as the actor David Baron in different repertory theater companies. The ellipses and pauses injected into his subsequent scripts are the direct result of his actor's crucible, having learned in everything from generic detective thrillers to Shakespeare how long a ham can hold a provincial audience's rapt attention with silence. Though certainly influenced by the spare, oblique wry dialogue of spiritual mentor Samuel Beckett and to a lesser degree the French absurdist school (i.e., Eugene Ionesco), Pinter's plays seem much more reality-based, grounded in the daily give-and-take of marriage, male friendship and family politics of English commoners. He became a master of "subtext," of that which is unsaid, the psychological life running just under the normal life, which calls the tune. Some people compare David Mamet to Pinter, and while on the surface their terse styles may warrant this, Mamet is a pale imitation of Pinter.

Critics savaged his first London-produced full-length play "The Birthday Party" (1958) so viciously that Pinter mothballed his next one "The Hothouse" until directing a production of it himself decades later in 1980. By 1960, however, when "The Caretaker" opened, reviews recognized the fresh new talent, awards showered down upon him, and his breakthrough play immediately took the theater world by storm. Pinter solidified his reputation with plays like "The Homecoming" (1965), which received the Tony Award for Best Play when it was produced in the USA in 1967, and the tour de force "Betrayal" (1978), in which he brilliantly altered the chronology in his triangular tale of love, starting at the end and working forward. Many of his early plays debuted first on either radio or TV, and as he was an adept master of the subtext-obscuring surface patter, it was only a matter of time before the movies came calling.

Pinter's first screen work came with a typically cryptic adaptation of Robert Maugham's novel, "The Servant" (1963), marking the beginning of a multi-film association with director Joseph Losey that also included "The Accident" (1967) and "The Go-Between" (1971). A real filmmaker and egoist, Losey determined Pinter would serve him, and the resultant pictures benefited from their battle of wills. In addition to his work with Losey, Pinter provided an excellent screenplay for "The Pumpkin Eater" (1964) and the critically-acclaimed film-within-a-film adaptation of John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1981). Though the tension he was able to generate on stage diminished in film, his screen versions of his plays, most notably "The Homecoming" (1973), often met with favorable response. His adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Last Tycoon" (1976) garnered mixed reviews, and he scripted fairly pedestrian movies like "The Handmaid's Tale" (1989), "The Comfort of Strangers" (1991) and "The Trial" (1993).

Pinter has frequently directed for the stage, occasionally his own plays, but more often the work of Simon Gray, including "Butley" (1971), with which he made his film-directing debut in 1974. He also directed Robert Shaw's "The Man in the Glass Booth" (1968), for which he received a 1969 Tony nomination and a successful London revival of Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1985), starring Lauren Bacall. As an actor, he has made periodic appearances in films he scripted, playing an amusing producer in "Accident" (1967), cameos in others like "The Servant" or "Turtle Diary" (1985). On stage, he also acted opposite Liv Ullmann and Nicola Pagett in a US production of his "Old Times." The man whose name forms an adjective in the Oxford English dictionary (Pinteresque to describe the elliptical style he popularized) signed a deal with Fox Searchlight in 1997 to adapt Isak Dinesen's short story "The Dreaming Child" for Julia Ormond to produce.

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