Read The Eloquent Atheist Webzine

Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Crisp, Quentin (1908-1999)
"When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, "Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?""

"The idea that He would take his attention away from the universe in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds is just so unlikely I can't go along with it."

-- Quentin Crisp


Quentin Crisp was an English writer, artist's model, actor and raconteur known for his memorable and insightful witticisms. He became a gay icon in the 1970s after publication of his memoir The Naked Civil Servant brought to the attention of the general public his defiant exhibitionism and longstanding refusal to conceal his homosexuality.

Early life
Born Denis Charles Pratt in Sutton, Surrey, the fourth child of accountant, Charles Pratt (1871 – 1931) and former governess Frances Phillips Pratt (1873 – 1960), he changed his name to Quentin Crisp in his twenties after leaving home and cultivating his outlandishly effeminate appearance to a standard that both shocked contemporary Londoners and provoked homophobic attacks.

By his own account, Crisp was effeminate in behaviour from an early age and found himself the object of teasing at Kingswood Preparatory School in Epsom, from where he won a scholarship to Denstone College, near Uttoxeter in 1922. Whilst in the sixth form Crisp served in and eventually commanded a squad in the Officer's Cadet Force. After leaving school in 1926 Crisp studied journalism at King's College London but failed to graduate in 1928, going on to take art classes at Regent Street Polytechnic.

Around this time, Crisp began frequenting the cafés of Soho – his favourite being The Black Cat in Old Compton Street – meeting other young gay men and rent-boys, and experimenting with make-up and women's clothes. For six months he worked as a prostitute, looking for love he said in a 1999 interview, but only found degradation.

Crisp left home to move to the centre of London at the end of 1930 and after a succession of flats found a bed-sitting room in Denbeigh Street, where he held court with London's brightest and roughest characters. His outlandish appearance – he wore bright make-up, dyed his long hair crimson, painted his fingernails and wore sandals to display his painted toenails – brought admiration and curiosity from some quarters but generally attracted hostility and violence from strangers passing him in the streets.

Middle years
Crisp attempted to join the army at the outbreak of the Second World War, but was rejected and declared exempt by the medical board on the grounds that he was 'suffering from sexual perversion'. He remained in London during the 1941 Blitz, stocked up on cosmetics, purchased five pounds of Henna and paraded through the blackout, picking up GIs, whose kindness and open-mindedness inspired his love of all things American.

In 1940 he moved into the bed-sitting room he would occupy for the next forty years, the first floor apartment at 129 Beaufort Street, London. Here he stayed until he emigrated in 1981. In the intervening years he never attempted any housework, saying famously in his memoir that the dirt didn't get any worse after the first four years.

He left his job as engineer's tracer in 1942 to become a model in life classes in London and the Home Counties, and continued posing for artists for the next three decades. 'It was like being a civil servant,' he explained in his autobiography, 'except that you were naked.'

Crisp had published three short books by the time he was commissioned by the director of Jonathan Cape to complete what would become The Naked Civil Servant. Having heard Crisp interviewed on radio in 1964 he was keen to produce something of his in print. The book appeared in 1968 to respectable reviews. When the book was reprinted in 1975 on the strength of the success of the television version of The Naked Civil Servant, Gay News commented that the book should have been published posthumously. Quentin said this was a polite way of their telling him to drop dead.

Subsequently, Crisp was approached by documentary maker Denis Mitchell to be the subject of a short film in which he was expected to talk about his life, voice his opinions and sit around in his Beaufort Street apartment filing his nails. The broadcast brought enough attention to Crisp and his book that he soon entered talks about a dramatisation of his book starring John Hurt as Quentin Crisp.

Fame
The successful screening of The Naked Civil Servant launched Crisp in another new direction: that of performer and lecturer. He devised a one-man show and began touring the country with it. The first half of the show was an entertaining monologue loosely based on his memoirs, the second half was a question and answer session with Crisp picking the audience's written questions out at random and answering them in an amusing manner.

In 1978 Crisp sold out the Duke of York's Theatre in London, then took the show to New York, where he eventually decided to move. His first stay there, in the Hotel Chelsea, coincided with a fire, a robbery, and the death of Nancy Spungen. He set about making arrangements to move to New York permanently and in 1981 he arrived with few possessions and found a small bed-sit apartment in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

He continued to perform his one-man show, published books on etiquette and supported himself by accepting social invitations and writing movie reviews and columns for U.S. and U.K. magazines and newspapers. He said provided one could exist on peanuts and champagne one could quite easily live by going to every cocktail party, premiere and first night to which one was invited.

As he had done in London, Crisp allowed his phone number to be listed in the Manhattan telephone directory and saw it as his duty to converse with anyone who called him. For the first twenty or so years of owning his own telephone he habitually answered calls with the phrase "Yes God?" ("Just in case," he once said.) Later on he changed it to "Oh yes?" in a querulous tone of voice.

Last years
Crisp remained fiercely independent and unpredictable into old age. He caused controversy in the gay community by calling AIDS 'a fad', and homosexuality 'a terrible disease', and famously commented disrespectfully on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. However he was continually in demand from journalists requiring a sound-bite and throughout the nineties his commentary was sought on any number of topics.

In 1992 he was persuaded by Sally Potter to play Elizabeth I in the film Orlando. Although he found the role taxing, he won acclaim for a dignified and touching performance. An earlier cinematic appearance, in the 1985 film The Bride, brought him into contact with Sting, who later wrote the song "Englishman in New York" about Crisp, containing the lines: It takes a gentleman to suffer ignorance and smile, Be yourself no matter what they say.

In his final volume of memoirs, Resident Alien published in 1996 Crisp stated that he was close to the end of his life. However, a humorous pact he had made with Penny Arcade to live to one hundred with ten years off for good behaviour proved to be a prophecy. That same year he was among the many people interviewed for the historical documentary on how Hollywood films have depicted homosexuality entitled the The Celluloid Closet.

Crisp died shortly before his ninety-first birthday in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Greater Manchester, on the eve of a nationwide revival of his one-man show. His body was cremated with the minimum of ceremony, his ashes flown back to New York and scattered over Manhattan.

 
Google
Web www.theinfidels.org
The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of Wikipedia.org, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
The Talk Of Lawrence