Daz­zling,enig­mat­ic­manofthe’60s

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

Just when you thought the 1960s had been ex­hausted of its charis­matic, mer­cu­rial fig­ures, David Litvi­noff hoves into view. Au­thor Ke­iron Pim has donea­mar­vel­lousjobof bring­ing to light a char­ac­ter so out­landish that he reads like a fic­tional con­fla­tion of ev­ery colour­ful star from that swing­ing decade.

In­deed, Litvi­noff man­ages to crop up, Zelig-like, at vir­tu­ally ev­ery key point from the 1930s to the 1970s. Born in Lon­don in 1928 to Jewish par- Ke­iron Pim: builds a bril­liant myth ents with Rus­sian ori­gins, he was there or there­abouts as Mosley’s black­shirts roamed the East End, and as an evac­uee dur­ing the Se­cond World War — where the host fam­ily abused him.

He came alive at the dawn of Lon­don’s beat­nik bo­hemia, flit­ting be­tween­the­bur­geoningun­der­ground and crim­i­nal un­der­world, mix­ing with both the Krays and the Rolling Stones as well as Lu­cian Freud and Eric Clap­ton. He was some­one “on the bor­ders of art and vil­lainy”, ac­cord­ing to Stones lynch­pin Keith Richards.

Sex­u­ally vo­ra­cious, morally dis­so­lute, a Fagi­nesque pro­curer and sur­real provo­ca­teur, ca­pa­ble of kind­ness and ter­ri­ble vi­o­lence, court jester and in­tel­lec­tual fire­brand, as com­forta-

Litvi­noff by his friend Lu­cian Freud ble with the up­per-class set in Chelsea as he was with repro­bates in Soho, Litvi­noff was all things to all peo­ple. Pim in­vests him with the qual­ity of a myth, to the ex­tent that you want to Google the facts to check that he re­ally did ex­ist.

He didn’t leave be­hind much by way of a legacy, save le­gions of re­ports bear­ing wit­ness to his magnetic aura and out­ra­geous ways. Peo­ple were ei­ther ap­palled by his an­tics or fas­ci­nated by his eru­di­tion, or both. Jimi Hen­drix is said to have vis­ited Litvi­noff when he moved to a tiny vil­lage in Wales in a quest to be­come “a rus­tic Jew”. Brian Jones ap­par­ently tele­phoned him, ram­bling and des­per­ate, on the eve of the Stones gui­tarist’s death in 1969.

He was one of the few au­da­cious enough to ad­dress the psy­chotic Ron­nie Kray by any­thing other than his pre­ferred moniker of “The Colonel”, opt­ing in­stead for “Boot-Nose”.

His lib­er­ties with one of Kray’s boyfriends and cava­lier dis­re­gard for the rules of his gam­bling dens re­sulted in Litvi­noff be­ing greeted out­side Earl’s Court tube sta­tion by a man with a cut-throat ra­zor who sliced his cheeks, with the words, “Ron­nie says hello”.

But Litvi­noff was equally ca­pa­ble of grotesque cru­elty, as Pim tes­ti­fies via first-hand ac­counts from sur­vivors.

His great­est con­tri­bu­tion — and sole ma­te­rial ev­i­dence of his deranged en­er­gyand­knowl­ed­geof thedark­un­der­belly of the cap­i­tal — was his as­sis­tance dur­ing the mak­ing of Per­for­mance, some­times hailed as the great­est Bri­tish movie of all time. Some ques­tion the ex­tent of his in­volve­ment; oth­ers claim that ev­ery frame was im­bued with Litvi­noff’s li­cen­tious pres­ence. He did make sure there was a copy of the Jewish Chron­i­cle on the bed of gang­ster pro­tag­o­nist Harry Flow­ers in one cru­cial scene of the film.

As with many, the ’60s took their toll and, by the new decade, Litvi­noff had suc­cumbed to de­pres­sion. He com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1975, the ul­ti­mate act from one of the most ex­treme in­di­vid­u­als of his, or any, era. Pim tells his story — piec­ing to­gether the frag­ments to build a myth — quite bril­liantly.

Paul Lester is a rock jour­nal­ist

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