Quentin Crisp




Quentin Crisp (25 December 1908 – 21 November 1999), born Denis Charles Pratt, was an English writer and raconteur. 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 remain in the closet. By his own account, Crisp was effeminate in behavior 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.

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 the Regent Street Polytechnic. Around this time, Crisp began visiting the cafés of Soho – his favorite 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 finding only degradation. 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. Here he stayed until he emigrated to the United States in 1981. In 1975 The Naked Civil Servant was broadcast on British and American television and made both actor John Hurt and Crisp himself into stars. This success launched Crisp in a new direction: that of performer and lecturer.

In 1996 he was among the many people interviewed for "The Celluloid Closet," a historical documentary on how Hollywood films have depicted homosexuality. In his third volume of memoirs, Resident Alien, published in the same year, Crisp stated that he was close to the end of his life, but in June of that year, he was one of the guest entertainers at the second Pride Scotland festival in Glasgow.

In December 1998, he celebrated his ninetieth birthday performing the opening night of his one-man show, An Evening with Quentin Crisp, at The Intar Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City (produced by John Glines of The Glines).