Pinter, Harold (10 October 1930 - 24 December 2008)
Pinter was born in East London to a Jewish family with a Polish ancestry. He briefly studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and acted under the name "David Baron." The playwright, director, actor, poet, and political activist has written 29 plays, 21 screenplays, and directed 27 theater productions.
His plays include The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, The Homecoming, and The Betrayal. Screenplays include The Servant, The Go-Between, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and The Handmaid's Tale.
Pinter's many awards include the Wilfred Owen Prize for poetry opposing the Iraq Conflict, the Shakespeare Prize (Hamburg), the European Prize for Literature (Vienna) and the Laurence Olivier Award.
Pinter has continued to dabble in acting, including portraying Sir Thomas Bertrand in the film, Mansfield Park. His fight in the early 2000s against cancer, he has said, has fortified his commitment to political activism. That activism included recently signing a letter to the BBC asking that their daily "Thought for the Day" should also include those with secular views.
In an interview with Ramona Koval, "Books and Writing," Radio National, Sept. 15, 2002, he said,
- You know, I had my bar mitzvah when I was thirteen and I never entered a synagogue again. I've been to one or two marriages, I think, but I've never had anything to do with it.
Pinter’s inspiration for Betrayal (1978) was autobiographical, describing how, while he was married to the actress Vivien Merchant, he had an affair from 1963 to 1969 with Joan Bakewell, a British television news broadcaster and journalist who was married to television producer Michael Bakewell.
In 2005 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Unable to attend, he delivered an acceptance speech in a recorded video while seated in a wheelchair. Ben Brantley of The New York Times said of Pinter that he
- captured the anxiety and ambiguity of life in the second half of the 20th century with terse, hypnotic dialogue filled with gaping pauses and the prospect of imminent violence.
- The adjective Pinteresque has become part of the cultural vocabulary as a byword for strong and unspecified menace.
- An actor, essayist, screenwriter, poet and director as well as a dramatist, Mr. Pinter was also publicly outspoken in his views on repression and censorship, at home and abroad. He used his Nobel acceptance speech to denounce American foreign policy, saying that the United States had not only lied to justify waging war against Iraq, but that it had also “supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship” in the last 50 years.
- His political views were implicit in much of his work. Though his plays deal with the slipperiness of memory and human character, they are also almost always about the struggle for power.
- In Mr. Pinter’s work “words are weapons that the characters use to discomfort or destroy each other,” said Peter Hall, who has staged more of Mr. Pinter’s plays than any other director.
- But while Mr. Pinter’s linguistic agility turned simple, sometimes obscene, words into dark, glittering and often mordantly funny poetry, it is what comes between the words that he is most famous for. And the stage direction “pause” would haunt him throughout his career.
- Intended as an instructive note to actors, the Pinter pause was a space for emphasis and breathing room. But it could also be as threatening as a raised fist. Mr. Pinter said that writing the word “pause” into his first play was “a fatal error.” It is certainly the aspect of his writing that has been most parodied. But no other playwright has consistently used pauses with such rhythmic assurance and to such fine-tuned manipulative effect.
Pinter turned down an offer of a knighthood and strongly attacked Prime MInister John Blair when NATO bombed Serbia. "The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law," Pinter said in his Nobel lecture.
At the time of his death, from cancer of the esophagus, Pinter had been married to Lady Antonia Fraser for over thirty-three years. The marquees of Broadway theaters in New York City and those in London were dimmed for one minute in honor of Pinter.
In accordance with Pinter's instructions, actor Sir Michael Gambon read out a passage from his play, No Man's Land, at the 15-minute service. Also read out at the service was a cricketing poem, "At Lord's," written by Francis Thompson - it was recited by actor-director Harry Burton, who was a member of Pinter's amateur Gaieties Cricket Club.
Pinter, who was passionate about cricket, was said to have traditionally read the poem at the end of each season at the club, which is now captained by Shomit Dutta, Indian-origin scholar of Greek and classics. The poem is known for its nostalgic lines extolling the English late-19th century cricketers A.N. Hornby and Dick Barlow.
Daily Mail by Sam Greenhill
Guardian.co.uk by Michael Billington
The New York Times by Mel Gussow and Ben Brantley