QUENTIN CRISP: QUAINTLY QUEER

The late, great, queer trail­blazer, Quentin Crisp of­fers The Last Word, the third and fi­nal in­stall­ment of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. Marc An­drews re­views the book and re­calls the night he was Quentin’s date.

DNA Magazine - - NEWS -

The late, great, queer trail­blazer Quentin Crisp of­fers The Last Word in the third and fi­nal in­stall­ment of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

Quentin Crisp was many things – a ho­mo­sex­ual provo­ca­teur, a flam­boy­ant dandy, a de­li­cious racon­teur, a nude model, a book de­signer, a film ac­tor – he even dab­bled in pros­ti­tu­tion in his early years. He was queer be­fore it cool. But it’s for be­ing his own truly fab­u­lous and one-of-a-kind cre­ation that he is best re­mem­bered.

Last Novem­ber saw the pub­li­ca­tion of the third and fi­nal in­stall­ment of Quentin’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, which co­in­cided with his pass­ing, 18 years ago on Novem­ber 21, 1999.

Writ­ten with the help of his friend, Phillip Ward who tape-recorded and later tran­scribed Quentin’s words in the last three years of his life, it fol­lows the first two in­stall­ments, The Naked Civil Ser­vant and How To Be­come A Vir­gin. In the movie ver­sions (both of which are ter­rific view­ing), Quentin was played by Os­car-nom­i­nated ac­tor John Hurt who, him­self, passed away in Jan­uary last year.

Quentin’s fame sprung from the fact that, as he of­ten stated, he was sim­ply born years ahead of his time. Com­ing of age in Lon­don just af­ter World War I, and then be­com­ing a man as the world went to war again in 1939, he was openly ho­mo­sex­ual, a cru­sader be­fore there was even a gay lib­er­a­tion move­ment.

Af­ter World War II, at a time when be­ing ho­mo­sex­ual was highly il­le­gal, Quentin didn’t just rebel against au­thor­ity, he threw him­self in the face of his op­pres­sors. He painted his nails, coloured his hair and wore out­ra­geous clothes. In an­other era, Quentin would most likely have been given a record­ing con­tract and be­come a huge pop star (hello nat­u­ral suc­ces­sor, Boy Ge­orge!) or to­day have been a fa­mous re­al­ity star or In­sta­gram in­flu­encer. As it was, he sagely chron­i­cled his bawdy, tawdry and awein­spir­ing ad­ven­tures into the 1968 book The Naked Civil Ser­vant, pub­lished a year af­ter ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was de­crim­i­nal­ized in the UK. A TV movie adap­ta­tion be­came a sen­sa­tion in 1975 and Quentin, who was never short of a glib quote or a bitchy put-down, be­come an in-de­mand me­dia dar­ling. The times had, in­deed, changed.

Hurt reprised his role as Quentin in 2009’s An English­man In New York, which fo­cused on the new life he cre­ated for him­self as an “il­le­gal alien” in the US af­ter mov­ing there at the ripe old age of 72. The ti­tle of the movie came from a 1987 pop hit by St­ing about Quentin. He even ap­peared in the singer’s mu­sic video, bring­ing him to the at­ten­tion of the bur­geon­ing MTV gen­er­a­tion, though many peo­ple as­sumed Quentin was ac­tu­ally a woman, as he hu­mor­ously de­tails in The Last Word.

For the lat­ter decades of his life Quentin toured the world as a racon­teur with his one­man show, An Evening With Quentin Crisp that won him awards and fans. He found time to write books on style, cul­ture and man­ners and ap­peared in over 20 movies, most fa­mously >>

>> drag­ging up as Queen El­iz­a­beth I in 1992’s Or­lando op­po­site Tilda Swin­ton. A year later in 1993 he be­came the first-ever pre­sen­ter of Chan­nel 4’s Al­ter­na­tive Christ­mas Mes­sage in the UK in op­po­si­tion to Queen El­iz­a­beth II. Yet, for all of his ec­cen­tric charm and me­di­asavvy dec­la­ra­tions, and al­though he was very much ahead of his time, the times even­tu­ally caught up with him. When gay lib­er­a­tion be­came a given, some of Quentin’s views be­gan to seem a lit­tle old hat and, worse, verg­ing on self-loathing.

He was roundly crit­i­cized by many in the gay com­mu­nity for his acid tongue, es­pe­cially when he torched his own, or those who were on our side. He mut­tered snif­filly that Princess Diana “got what she de­served,” off-hand­edly and half-jok­ingly re­ferred to AIDS as “a fad” and man­aged to get ev­ery­one off side by declar­ing ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity “a ter­ri­ble dis­ease”. While he prob­a­bly en­joyed the at­ten­tion his con­tro­ver­sial, and very quotable, bon mots re­ceived, it’s un­likely Quentin was do­ing any­thing more than con­tin­u­ing his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer as an agent provo­ca­teur.

And now we are left with The Last Word, where the now-de­ceased English ec­cen­tric muses over his so-called ca­reer, his var­i­ous in­car­na­tions over the decades, the con­tro­ver­sies he stirred, his wishes at the time for his death and how he would like to be re­mem­bered. Not sur­pris­ingly, in true Quentin Crisp fash­ion, the last chap­ter of the book is called My Sig­nif­i­cant Death.

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