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The story of Grove Theater: HAROLD PINTER and other playwrights

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Read the story of Harold Pinter’s time in New York—and a little-known account of his Broadway debut

Barney Rosset’s championing of new theater at Grove Press in the late 1950s, including work by such playwrights as Eugène Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, Amiri Baraka, and Bertolt Brecht, would influence modern drama internationally for decades to come.



Of the many accomplishments of Barney Rosset at Grove Press—introducing such writers as Kenzaburō Ōe, Samuel Beckett, and Marguerite Duras to North America, battling American obscenity laws to publish unexpurgated editions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, championing such legendary films as I Am Curious (Yellow) and Norman Mailer’s Maidstone—the production of new theater in the United States in the late 1950s would influence modern drama internationally for decades to come. The stable of playwrights Rosset developed—Jean Genet, Eugène Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, David Mamet, Amiri Baraka, William Inge, Václav Havel, Bertolt Brecht, and Harold Pinter—rendered Grove an estimable force in theater, perhaps more influential than any other publisher of the century. What follows is an account from Rosset’s long-awaited autobiography of the Broadway debut of Harold Pinter, and his time in New York with his publisher.


An excerpt from Rosset:

When we signed up Pinter, I remember very well that we had not yet seen one of his plays performed, but his scripts clearly showed his writing was brilliant. The way he used silence was reminiscent, to me, of Beckett—but different. There was an all-pervading sense of menace. The Dumb Waiter was a good example. Pure menace, terrifying, brilliant theater charged with a silent danger.

Pinter’s agent was Jimmy Wax. He and Harold were close friends. In New York they premiered The Homecoming on Broadway, but opening night was less than triumphant with many in the audience hating it. I remember asking Jimmy, “Who the hell did you invite to this opening?” I mean, at an opening when an author is already very well known, you can pick and choose whom you’re inviting—and you’re giving away many tickets. At least you ought to get people who might like the play. But on that first night one woman in the audience stood up and shouted in the middle of the first act: “Let’s get out of here, this is terrible!”

Pinter always talked and even acted as if he were a character in one of his plays. During the New York blackout of 1965, Cristina and I were in a Greenwich Village restaurant with Harold and my wife’s sister. Initially, when the lights went out, we thought that the blackout was confined to the restaurant and its immediate vicinity. I got my car from our nearby house, parked it facing the restaurant, and turned on the headlights so we could see to eat. The restaurant staff did not object. We slowly realized there was a total blackout extending as far as we could see uptown. Harold sat there silently for a long time, then suddenly said, “Does this happen very often here?” I waited for about three minutes before answering, as if we were in one of his plays, and then said, “Not often. Every twenty years or so.” Finally, Harold asked us to go back with him to his room at the luxurious, blacked-out Carlyle Hotel. We did and a city police officer carrying a flashlight escorted us up a back stairway. Back in his room, Harold read to us by candlelight a poem he had recently written. It was a memorable evening.

Pinter asked Beckett to critique everything he wrote, and Beckett liked Pinter both as a friend and as a writer, and paid him and his work close attention. The reverse was equally true.


Further Reading


rosset cover

eleutheria cover

seventeen and j cover

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