by Quentin Crisp

Quentin Crisp was reluctantly born on Christmas Day in 1908. To his dismay, he found himself to be the son of middle-class, middlebrow, middling parents who lived in Sutton, a suburb of London, England. After an uneventful childhood, he was sent, between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, to a school in Derbyshire which was like a cross between a monastery and a prison. There he learned nothing that could ever be useful to him in adulthood except how to bear injustice. His ignorance of everything but this and his ambiguous appearance made a career impossible except in the arts. He therefore became an illustrator and a designer of book covers. When he could no longer bear constantly being given the sack, he tried freelancing. From time to time he wrote books on an assortment of subjects — on lettering (a craft which he had never mastered), on window dressing, on the Ministry of Labor (with which, at the time, he had never had any connection except as an applicant for the dole).

At length, almost by chance, he stood in for a friend who was an art school model, and finding that the effort did not cause him to collapse, he took up posing as a career. With this way of life he struggled on for thirty-five years. In the middle 1960's, on a British radio channel to which no one listens, he uttered a few words that led to his being invited to write his biography. The synopsis of his proposed work caused the man who had commissioned it to faint dead away, but another firm, Jonathon Cape, agreed to publish it in 1968. This was an offer that Mr. Crisp could not refuse, because he was paid in advance.

Looking back, the press likes to refer to the book as "a bestseller at the time." It was no such thing. It received respectful reviews, sold about 3,500 copies, and caused no sensation whatsoever until it was translated into a television scenario by Mr. Mackie, who then, for four long, dark years, ran hatless through the streets of London trying to nag producers into making it into a movie. He failed. Ultimately, forced by fatigue to lower his sights, Mr. Mackie cajoled Thames Television into making his script into a television play. In this new, improved form, The Naked Civil Servant was well received — even by critics. Their approbation caused awards to be sprinkled like confetti upon Mr. John Hurt, who played the leading part in it, on its director, Mr. Gold, on its production team, headed by Miss Lambert, and on Mr. Mackie. No credit for the excellence of this play is due to Mr. Crisp; he is merely the raw material from which it is made.

Nevertheless, a certain amount of curiosity about the subject of such a sensational autobiography has prompted producers to present him in a variety of ventures so that the world might have the opportunity of affirming his existence, of hearing what he has to say, and of asking him questions. Over the years, due to this success, he has visited a number of towns and cities in England and Australia, and appeared at the Edinburgh and Belfast festivals. He made his Off-Broadway debut in An Evening with Quentin Crisp in 1978 and has since been seen by New York audiences as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Soho Repertory Theatre.

Mr. Crisp's first New York City calling card,given him on
his 80th birthday by Linda Danz, Kathy Hurt, and Phillip Ward.
Designed by Linda Danz.

Upon becoming a resident alien of the United States in 1981, he moved to New York City, vowing never to leave. Until recently, Mr. Crisp found it difficult to believe in abroad. It seemed too remote to anyone who had lived for thirty-eight years in one room in Chelsea — incidentally, without ever cleaning it. In the winter of his life, he describes himself as a retired waif. Having been unsuccessfully an artist, a teacher of tap dancing, an occasional writer, and minor televisionary, he is now an old-age pensioner — a career at which he can hardly fail. In spite of all this, he has the nerve to preach on the subject of life-style and claims with the aid of it to be able to cure you of your excessive freedom, which he deems to be the cause of the world's ills. These public appearances are his humble attempt to thank the human race for having to some extent revised the condemnatory opinion it has held of him for so long.

Text copyright © 1999–2008 by Quentin Crisp for Quentin Crisp Archives. All rights reserved.
Photograph copyright © by Phillip Ward. All rights reserved.

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