John Kingsley Orton (who later changed his name to Joe Orton to avoid any confusion with playwright John Osborne) was born to William and Elsie Orton in a working-class area of Leicester, England. After failing the eleven-plus examination, he enrolled in Clark’s College, a commercial school where one of his teachers described him as “semiliterate.” Seeing the theater as a way to escape the drudgery of the menial jobs he was forced to take, Orton joined the Leicester Dramatic Society in 1949 and acted in several small roles in other amateur theatrical groups. In 1950, he was accepted to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which he entered in 1951. It was there that he met a fellow student-actor, Kenneth Halliwell, who became Orton’s friend, lover, and roommate for the rest of his life.
After receiving his diploma from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Orton worked briefly as an assistant stage manager for the Ipswich Repertory Company and then rejoined Halliwell in London in 1953. They began collaborating on a series of novels, all of which were turned down for publication. In 1959, Orton, aided by Halliwell, began stealing and defacing books from the Islington and Hampstead libraries. Orton, who would remove the photographs and illustrations from the books and then replace them with his own creations, would also write false blurbs and summaries; after replacing the books on the shelves, he would stand and watch people’s reactions to his...
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