In the spring of 1999, we were placing the finishing touches on our book Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati before its publication later that autumn. So we decided that the proper icing on this decadent biography of a true original would be the addition of a foreword penned by another true originalour choice was Mr. Crisp and Mr. Crisp alone.
We had made his acquaintance during the years preceding this project by several chance encounters on the streets of New York and by letter. So when we approached Mr. Crisp about the idea of his involvement in this project, we were more than ecstatic to be informed by him that he had actually encountered the Marchesa Casati in London in the 1940's.
A meeting was immediately planned. Mr. Crisp suggested one of his favorite haunts, a colorful diner-restaurant located in the East Village nearby his home. "You will see me there," he informed us, "resembling a Dutch prostitute as I sit in the window." Alas, we were denied this great visual pleasure since we arrived, in our eagerness, prior to his appearance. And appear he finally didimmediately recognizable in dapper fedora and silk cravat.
For the next hour, Mr. Crisp regaled us with a sparklingly vivid first-hand account of his meeting with the Marchesa Casati at an afternoon tea so many years ago, along with hysterically witty verbal portraits of various icons of the silent screen and popular society. Yet in the midst of Mr. Crisp's telling of such lighthearted, yet piercingly accurate accounts, a great poignancy fell upon us listeners. For at that moment, we realized how similar Mr. Crisp's situation mirrored that of the Marchesa Casati, the latter a once fabulously rich high-society heroine who lived in near poverty during her final years. But then again, just like the Marchesa, Mr. Crisp seemed blithely unconcerned with the hardships of his golden years. It was life, and the full and experience of it in the now that mattered most.
Sadly, Mr. Crisp passed away the very month Infinite Variety was first published. And so, his foreword describing the Marchesa Casati and the existence of an icon became the very last piece of his writing to be published before his death. Infinite Variety would be later published in several English and foreign-language editions, and it has been an honor for us that Mr. Crisp's foreword has remained such a beloved part of it. Viva Mr. Crisp!
Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino are the authors of Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati, the official biography of the eccentric art/culture/fashion icon. Click here to learn more about La Casati and the book.
Text and accompanying images are copyright © 2006 by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino. All rights reserved. Used by permission.