Monday 15 February 2010

The LGBT History Series (15) - Quentin Crisp

Quentin Crisp (1980-1999) was an English writer and raconteur who lived an outlandish and exhibitionist life in London's Soho and frequently visiting New York's subverted spaces.

Crisp, (born Charles Pratt) was successively a failed journalism student, an art student, transvestite, and prostitute. His unorthodox appearance (crimson dyed hair, make-up, a mixture of men's and women's clothes, painted fingernails and toenails) attracted curiosity and admiration from some, but hostility and violence from strangers in the streets.

Author: Graham Colm, Permission: GFDL

1939 - Quentin Crisp attempted to join the army, but was rejected on the grounds that he was 'suffering from sexual perversion' (see yesterday's post about army policy towards homosexuals), so instead he paraded through the blackouts of London, picking up kind and open-minded GIs.
1942 - he made a salary from being an artists model at St Martin's School of Art, but his various manuscripts for novels and autobiographies were soon picked up, and tv documentaries and dramatisations were soon to follow.
1975 - John Hurt played Crisp in 'The Naked Civil Servant'. On the back of this, Crisp toured a one-man-show/lecture and published books on social inclusivity and wrote various columns in British and American newspapers.
1976 - Crisp turned his hand to screen-acting, playing Polonius in an adaptation of 'Hamlet' which also included Helen Mirren, playing both Ophelia and Gertrude.
1987 - Sting and the Police wrote 'Englishman in New York' dedicated to Crisp after meeting him and spending many a dinner party discussing the 'misuranistic gay culture of Britain 1920-1960'
1990 - he played Queen Elizabeth I in 'Orlando' which won him critical acclaim.
1996 - contributed to a documentary called 'The Celluloid Closet' on how homosexuality was portrayed and received in Hollywood.
1999 - one month before his 91st birthday Crisp died. His estate was estimated to be worth more than $600,000.

In his old age, Crisp caused controversy and confuddlement in queer culture by referring to AIDs as a 'fad', and saying 'what is there to be proud of? I don't believe in rights for homosexuals'.