Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gorilla in the Roses: Orton and Halliwell's Vandalized Books

Alec Clunes The Three Faces of Eve

Joe Orton was an English author, screenwriter, and playwright in the mid-60s who enjoyed much popularity until he was bludgeoned to death in a murder-suicide by his long-time partner, Kenneth Halliwell.

Americans are most familiar with his story through the biography Prick Up Your Ears, which was turned into a 1987 film, with Gary Oldman as Orton.

Before they were famous, Orton and Halliwell conducted a book vandalizism spree.

From Joe Orton Online:

Infuriated at the poor choice of books at their local library, Orton and Halliwell conspired a curious revenge - they began stealing and altering books. Plates were removed from art books and used to create collages on the walls of the bed-sit. More inventively, they began altering books, creating new covers and writing new blurbs on the dust jackets. Orton recalled,

‘I used to stand in the corners after I’d smuggled the doctored books back into the library and then watch people read them. It was very fun, very interesting.’

Islington Library did not share the joke and set about tracking the culprits down. On April 28th 1962 police raided the flat and Orton and Halliwell were arrested. They were charged with stealing 72 books and removal of 1,653 plates from art books, used to decorate the flat. Pleading guilty to 5 charges of malicious damage at Islington Magistrates they were sentenced to 6 months in prison. This seemed a harsh sentence and later Orton commented that the court had realised they were gay and that the severity of the sentence was ‘because we were queers.’

After their deaths, of course, the vandalized books have become the most important special collection at the Islington Local History Centre.

Is it just me, or is Eve's cat face hilarious?

To view more vandalized books, visit the Gallery at Joe Orton Online.


m said...

awesome! i love the defaced 'The Secret of Chimneys' by Agatha Christie. pretty.

sundersartwork said...

The idea of the books they defaced now being the star attraction is amusing. If i drew on a book it is a crime, if Banksy drew on a book they would frame it and charge admission.