Twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray were murderous thugs and not to be tangled with. But Litvinoff, who was gay, not only shared sexual partners with Ronnie but was in the extremely dangerous habit of mocking him by calling him “Boot-nose” and running up large debts in the Krays’ gambling clubs.
This cavalier recklessness was duly rewarded when Litvinoff met the man with the razor, leaving permanent scars at the corners of his mouth. In another brush with the underworld, mobsters burst into his flat, beat him and shaved his head. Then he was tied unconscious and bleeding to the outside of his balcony railing some distance above Kensington High Street. When he came round he managed to get back inside.
Litvinoff’s acquaintance with rock music was less dangerous. He helped changed Eric Clapton’s direction away from the the psychedelia and frippery of the mighty rock group Cream by introducing him to Bob Dylan’s newly down-home “Basement Tapes”. Litvinoff’s input helped shape the plot of the 1970 cult film “Performance”, featuring Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, by suggesting locations, shaping dialogue and generally offering his knowledge of gangland.
Keiron Pim has written Litvinoff’s biography. Pim is the author of “The Bumper Book of Dinosaurs” (2013), a science guide, and wrote the introduction to “Into the Light: Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Meir of Norwich” (2013), the first published English translations of England’s only major medieval Hebrew poet.
Pim is 37 years old and was thus born in 1979, or four years after Litvinoff’s death. His book is part biography and part personal quest, entailing 100 interviews over five years and quests to Wales and Australia in dogged pursuit of his subject’s elusive ghost.
The task was made all the harder by Litvinoff’s professed determination to live to the full without leaving any trace that he had been around. He said once: “I only want two pieces of paper that record my life: my birth certificate and my death certificate.”
Pim’s thorough research exposes a compelling but often repulsive man. Born in 1928, Litvinoff was a homosexual Jew from the shady East End of London. He had two brothers who rose to eminence in their fields – one a poet, one a Zionist historian – while Litvinoff, a brilliant conversationalist and fascinated by the music world, fell in with criminals.
In early adult life Litvinoff was an enforcer for Peter Rachman, the infamous slum landlord of London. Litvinoff’s predilection for petty fraud and theft brought him up against painter Lucian Freud. They looked rather similar, and Litvinoff visited clubs where Freud was a member and ran up drinks bills on his tab.
Freud caught him in the act but, instead of calling the police, asked Litvinoff to pose for him. The result was the portrait on Pim’s book jacket, a reproduction of a painting that fetched more than £1 million at Christies in 1999.
Pim brings back from obscurity a man who was sexually voracious and morally dissolute, capable of kindness and terrible violence, as in his quest to find the guest whose tip-off led to the infamous police raid at Rolling Stone Keith Richards’ Redlands home.
Brian Jones apparently phoned Litvinoff, rambling and desperate, on the eve of the former Stones guitarist’s death in 1969. Jimi Hendrix is said to have visited him when he moved to a Wales village to become a “rustic Jew” for a while.
Litvinoff committed suicide in 1975. A host of absorbing stories from this extreme individual’s life are brought onto the page by Pim.

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