Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Biography of the Playwright

Harold Pinter was born on October 30, 1930 in Hackney, London to native English-Jewish parents of Eastern-European ancestry. Correcting general knowledge about Pinter's family background, Michael Billington, Pinter's authorized biographer, documents that "three of Pinter's grandparents hail from Poland and one from Odessa, making them Ashkenazic rather than Sephardic Jews." Pinter was educated at Hackney Downs Grammar School. A "profound influence" on him was his evacuation to Cornwall and Reading from London during 1940 and 1941 before and during The Blitz and facing "the life-and-death intensity of daily experience"

Beginning in autumn 1948, for two semesters, he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Later that year, he was "called up for National Service," registered as a conscientious objector, was brought to trial twice, and ultimately fined by the magistrate for refusing to serve. He "loath[ed]" RADA, mostly cut classes, and dropped out in 1949...From January to July 1951, he attended "two terms" at the Central School of Speech and Drama. From 1951-52, he toured Ireland with the Anew McMaster repertory company, playing over a dozen roles; in 1952 he began regional repertory acting jobs in England; and from 1953-54, he worked for the Donald Wolfit Company, King's Theatre, Hammersmith, performing nearly ten roles. From 1954 until 1959, Harold Pinter acted under the stage name David Baron.

From 1956 until 1980, Pinter was married to Vivien Merchant, a rep actress whom he met on tour, probably best known for her performance in the original film Alfie (1966). Their son, Daniel, was born in 1958. Through the early 70s, Merchant appeared in many of Pinter's works, most notably The Homecoming on stage (1965) and screen (1973). The marriage was rather "turbulent" and began disintegrating in the mid-1960s. For seven years, from 1962-69, Pinter was engaged in a clandestine affair with Joan Bakewell, which informed his play Betrayal (1978). According to his own program notes for that play, between 1975 and 1980, he lived with historian Lady Antonia Fraser, wife of Sir Hugh Fraser. In 1975, Merchant filed for divorce. The Frasers' divorce became final in 1977 and the Pinters' in 1980. In 1980, Pinter married Antonia Fraser. Unable to overcome her bitterness and grief at the loss of her husband, Vivien Merchant died of acute alcoholism in 1983. According to Billington, Pinter "did everything possible to support" her until her death and regrets that he became estranged from their son, Daniel, after their separation and Pinter's marriage to Antonia Fraser. Pinter has stated publicly in several recent interviews that he remains "very happy" in his second marriage and enjoys family life, which includes his six adult step-children and over twice as many grandchildren.

From the Wikipedia


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