The Younger Man
by ALEX CARNEVALE
Joe Orton's partner Kenneth Halliwell started to crack long before he read his boyfriend's diaries, before he began imitating Joe's voice on the telephone to find out what people would say about him to the man he lived with. In a tiny London apartment, Orton's secrets from Halliwell were few and far between. But as Kenneth found out, he did have them.
It was not much of a surprise to Halliwell that Orton, one of the supreme playwriting talents of his century, cheated on Kenneth Halliwell quite frequently. The younger man also wrote privately about his dalliances. Upon meeting a beautiful blonde boy that year Orton wrote, "He had a softness about his body that wasn't the softness of a woman. I hoped he would let me fuck him."
Threesomes were routine. Orton recalls one particular scene in his diary:
After awhile I turned Dave over and shoved my cock up his arse. He gave a yelp and I took it down. A. Tills produced vaseline and I put it on my cock. A. Tills put some up blue-eyed Dave's bum and I began again. It went up like a treat. "Flat! Lie flat!" I said. He did so. Actually, it was quite exciting. After I'd come and withdrawn, I noticed A. Tills had come. Dave rolled on top of me and rubbed himself off on my belly. We lay in bed for awhile, half asleep. The ceiling was very clean. Moulding of leaves. An alarm clock besides the bed said 4:00. "I must go at five," I said, thinking that Kenneth would be back by then.
Orton was becoming the most notorious young playwright in Britain, his fame quickly spreading. His dialogue was unmatched in his industry, and the dark humor of the work found an enchanting balance between silliness and depravity. Other plays could not help but seem impossibly buttoned-up compared to the excitement plays like Entertaining Mr. Sloan, The Ruffian on the Stair and What the Butler Saw inculcated on stage.
In contrast, Halliwell's writing never got off the ground at all, not matter how many manuscripts he send to his boyfriend's representation. This lack of any discernible success in the field left Kenneth Halliwell despondent. Orton's diaries find him complaining of Kenneth's foul moods and hypochondria almost constantly, contrasting his own libacious second life with a domestic arrangement that seems unhappy at best, mutually abusive at worst.
On the first of May in 1967, Orton writes:
Kenneth H. had a long talk about our relationship. He threatens, or keeps saying, he will commit suicide. He says, "You'll learn then, won't you?" and "What will you be like without me?" We talked and talked until I was exhausted. He said, "I am disgusted by all this immortality." He began to rail savagely at Tom and Clive and, after a particularly sharp outburst, alarmed me by saying, "Homosexuals disgust me!" I didn't attempt to fathom this one out.
He said he wasn't going to come away to Morocco. He was going to kill himself. "I've led a dreadful, unhappy life. I'm pathetic. I can't go on suffering like this."
After talking until about eight he suddenly shouted out and hammered on the wall, "They treated me like shit. I won't be treated like this." I agreed that they both had chosen to agree with me on all things whether sensible or not. "You had tea, they had tea, you had jam tarts, they had jam tarts. And those photographs of Mustapha - he was so unattractive, and because you had him they said, 'What a dish.'"
I'd noticed all this the previous evening. I'd also noticed that they'd been over-enthusiastic in praise of anything connected with me. "Surely you expected this?" I said.
Orton was a voracious reader, and Halliwell endeavored to be his guide. This caused substantial resentment between them — the older man, by seven years, felt he was more educated, and that it was his duty to instruct the more talented Orton. Halliwell privately began to loathe the perceived crudity of his partner's work just because he was so fawned over.
Their sex life was furtive and occasionally disturbed. After Kenneth had parted with a few of his valium to loosen them both up, Joe
had a hard on. And we had a furious sex session. He stuck his finger up my arse and wanked me. And he said I could fuck him if I wanted to. "I can't overcome that particular psychological inhibition with you," I said. He sucked my cock. And then I tossed him off after a very long love-making session. I came, but I don't know how much, because he wiped it up before switching on the light.
Later that week, they tried again.
When I got back home, Kenneth H. was in such a rage. He'd written in large letters on the wall, JOE ORTON IS A SPINELESS TWAT. He sulked for awhile and then came round. He'd been to the doctor's and got 400 valium tablets. Later we took two each and had an amazing sexual session. I'd decided that I'd fuck him. But it didn't work out. "I'm not sure what the block is," I said. "I can fuck other people perfectly well. But up to now, I can't fuck you." This is something strange. I had a big hard on. Yet, when I turned to put it up him, it just went off. Anyway we made love and came. He sucked my cock. I've got a mark on it where he did it too hard.
To get away from things they vacationed in Tangiers, where both men slept with such young servants as their hotel could provide. Orton called ninety-five percent of the boys Mohammed, subsisting on a steady diet of hash cakes, valium and vaseline. When Joe got back to London he made a habit of checking out men's bathrooms looking for sex. He was relieved to be able to talk in English again during his fucks, noticing how much sex missed a common verbal language. Kenneth was less on his mind than ever.
The reverse was true for the increasingly jealous Halliwell. In Tangiers he attacked Orton for the first time when the younger man nastily criticized him for his predilection for being masturbated to orgasm. Halliwell punched Orton in the back of the head.
Getting Kenneth to snap only increased the vigor of Orton's nastiness, and he clearly thought nothing of the danger he was putting himself in by acting this way. The blow to the head, in retrospect, was the first enactment of Orton's murder.
When they returned from "paradise" for good, Orton's play Loot, his finest work, was beginning its long run on the London stage. Meanwhile What the Butler Saw was being reshaped and polished with Halliwell's help. Orton reunited with those he'd missed while he was away.
I went to the negro's room again today. He told me his mother died of cancer. "Of the womb," he said, "and that's a terrible thing, you know." He said, "It's it's the breast than they can cut them off. Only it doesn't always work. I know a woman who had her breast off and now she's dead. Oh, man, that cancer is a terrible thing. Most people don't live, you know that." He said his father died when he was seventeen. He had several sisters and brothers in England and in America. Mostly their marriages are failures," he said, "they don't seem to get on. And they separate. I don't know what you feel about this. I feel pretty bad." He said, "I've a West Indian paper here. I just bought it. I'm looking for a job." We took off our clothes and I let him fuck me.
Then, after he'd listened to the one o'clock news on a portable wireless - "the news is bad all over the world. My God! I don't know a single spot where the news is good" — I fucked him. I took a lot longer in fucking him. "I come off too quick, man," he said morosely as I got up off him. "If I could pick up a gay doctor I'd ask him about that."
The night Joe Orton was murdered by Kenneth Halliwell, he had been groping a woman in front of him, Sheila Ballantine. He was doing so completely playfully, to show how one of the actresses in Loot had overdone her own sexual promiscuity. Halliwell could barely see in front of his eyes — he tried to tell Orton that he'd gotten a bunch of pills from the doctor, that he was considering suicide. His lover dismissed it as typical Kenneth; Orton was more concerned about a meeting he had with the Beatles the following day.
On August 9th, 1967, Kenneth Halliwell bashed Orton's head in with a hammer after taking 22 nembutals. (Halliwell's father had ended himself by putting his head in a gas oven.) The pills killed him before Orton died of blood loss in his bed. On Halliwell's desk the police found a note:
If you read his diary all will be explained.
P.S. Especially the latter part.
Yet the very last pages of the diary, those covering the week before Orton's murder, had been torn out.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Paul Bowles and the romance between Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.
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