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Crisp, Quentin (1908-1999)  
page: 1  2  

Other books from his later years include How to Have a Life-Style (1975), How to Become a Virgin (1981), and Manners from Heaven (1985).

As a writer, and as a persona, Crisp managed to be at once witty and generous. His books are funny, but they are also often penetrating. He himself was unfailingly gracious, but often also relentless in exposing the absurdities and injustices of English and American social mores.

If The Naked Civil Servant chronicles the mistreatment and pain (both borne with a stiff upper lip) of his youth in England, his later books stress the contentment he found in America, where life is presented as a comedy of manners.

Crisp also gained fame in his old age as an actor. He appeared as himself in a number of documentary films, including Resident Alien (1991), Naked in New York (1994), and The Celluloid Closet (1995), and in small parts in commercial films, such as Philadelphia (1993) and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995).

Perhaps his most interesting performance was as Queen Elizabeth I in Orlando (1993), Sally Potter's film based on Virginia Woolf's novel. He also starred opposite Lea DeLaria in Sara Moore's farcical Homo Heights (1997).

Crisp's life not only inspired several documentary films, but it was also the subject of a skillfully constructed play. Crisp gave playwright Tim Fountain permission to turn his diaries into a dramatic monologue entitled Resident Alien. Performed with style and subtlety by transvestite actor Bette Bourne, a veteran of drag shows, the play enjoyed successful runs on both sides of the Atlantic in 1999 and 2000.

Crisp died in Manchester, England on November 21, 1999, at the age of 90. He suffered a heart attack while on tour with his one-man show, An Audience with Quentin Crisp.

Although he lived in notoriously squalid conditions (his theory being that housework was entirely useless: "After the first four years the dirt doesn't get any worse," he quipped), Crisp left an estate valued in excess of $600,000. But his greatest legacy was his example of courage.

Despite the contradictions of his life, particularly the facts that he refused to campaign for homosexual equality and failed to grasp the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic, by the end of his life he had become a beloved figure in glbtq culture.

Claude J. Summers

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Bailey, Paul, ed. The Stately Homo: A Celebration of the Life of Quentin Crisp. London: Bantam, 2000.

Official Quentin Crisp Web Site:

Robinson, Paul. Gay Lives: Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.


    Citation Information
    Author: Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: Crisp, Quentin  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 7, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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