On August 9th, 1967, Joe Orton was bludgeoned to death with a hammer by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell. Orton was one of London's most promising playwrights, and was by all accounts at the height of his talent--as well as a first-class perv.

Today Orton's lascivious lifestyle steals the headlines, but in his day, his plays got all the attention, mostly in the form of controversy. Entertaining Mr. Sloane, produced in 1964, shocked everyone from Kensington to the West End for alternating stiff-upper-lip British dialogue with bits of nasty violence. At one point, Orton was even sent to prison for obscenity (for writing grotesque blurbs on the backs of book jackets). You see, despite having a devoted lover, Orton was quite big on anonymous public sex (or "cottaging," if you must know the polite British term).

In an interview conducted shortly before his death, Orton commented on his freewheeling lifestyle, "I don't like possessions, and a wife and children are possessions; they have to be possessed and supported." In this light one wonders how Halliwell could have stayed with him at all.

Which leads us back to Halliwell and the hammer. In biographies on Joe Orton, Halliwell is typically characterized as a whining shrew with less talent and charisma than Orton, who eventually freaked out about his lover's constant infidelity. Recently, however, people have started to think of Halliwell on equal terms with Orton--as much a colleague as a boyfriend.

In 1987, the sordid tale of Orton and Halliwell was turned into the movie Prick Up Your Ears, based on the biography of Orton by John Lahr. While the performances by Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, and Vanessa Redgrave are stunning, the film focuses primarily on Orton hanging out in public toilets, Halliwell sniveling like a whiny twit, and Vanessa Redgrave walking around in rockin' '60s outfits. If you want to get a better picture of Orton, check out his plays. They defy strict categorization, just like their author:

"People always like to put you in compartments and I didn't like this. I think compartments of any kind are bad. They do it in sex--'he's a leather fetishist' or 'he likes little girls in pink knickers.' Well, I think one should like everything, or try everything in all spheres of life. I don't think one should reject any experience--although I don't really fancy being beaten or anything like that." STEVEN LANKENAU