The Profession of Being


Quentin Crisp: The Profession of Being.
A biography by Nigel Kelly
I have always been a great admirer of Quentin Crisp ever since I first saw the tv movie of his autobiography The Naked Civil Servant in 1975. I was frankly bowled over by this man who refused to be anything else but true to himself, no matter what the consequences. And the consequences were severe. He often woke up in hospital the next day having been beaten unconscience by a gang of 'queer basShers'.

I was soo impressed by his courage, humanity and integrity that he came to represent for me an example of the best of humanity. A real life hero.

And so he remains to this day.

I tried to read his books and follow his life, though this was pre-internet days so it was not easy.

Anyway fast forward to 1999 and I read the news that he had died in England! (He hated England!) Even though he was just shy of his ninety-first birthday, I was still shocked.
All these years later I was now working as an internet developer. So I decided to try to do something to commerate his life and to keep his memory alive. So I created a website dedicated to him. I did not really expect this to come to much, I had done it really to try to get over my sense of loose. But withing months I started to be contacted by some of his friends, such as Guy Kettelhack, June Lang and Penny Arcade

Guy and I outside Quentin's rooming
house in London.
So fast forward several more years and it is 2007. My wife and I are injured in a road traffic accident. Thankfully my wife was less seriously injured but I was off work for months. I become very eneasy with nothihg to do. One day I decided to try to write a book about Quentin. Now I have to admit that this was not entirely my own idea. A very good friend of mine Tommy Barr, who is an artist, knew of my admiration for Quentin and had suggested it previously.

So I started. In a couple of weeks I had completed the first two chapters. But I felt very unqualified for the task. I very tentatively mentioned my idea to Penny Arcade thinking that she would laugh at me (metaphorically speaking)

But to my surprise she was totally supportive and thought it was a great idea! She pointed out that many biographers had never met their subject; that I had already a vast amount of knowledge about my subject; and that I had her and all his friends who would help me all they could!

And indeed it was true. During the next three years that it took to write the book I hastled them a lot, and even though they were all very busy people not one of them, ever refused or even delayed in answering my many questions.

Guy Kettelhack told me that he would have done anything for Quentin while he was alive and still would.

And indeed he did. He even wrote the foreword to my book. For which I will be eternally grateful.

Reviews

'One of the most important biographies written about Quentin Crisp'
Richard Louis James

 


'This is a triumph. Quentin Crisp deserves a brilliant biography and, thanks to Nigel Kelly, he gets it. Crisp emerges as a treasurable modern day philosopher whose determination to never be anything less than his true self, whatever the cost, resonates sharply today. For the long-term Quentin fan, there's much to learn here, and for the novice it's the perfect introduction. If you're a Quentin fan, this is the book to pass on to the uninitiated. A great success which deserves the widest possible audience.'
Barndoor - Amazon Reviewer

 


'When some years ago Nigel Kelly asked me if he could use my portrait of Quentin Crisp for his website homepage right away I said: " Be my quest." Anything to help keep the memory of mister Crisp alive. I answered the same when he expressed his desire to have my work on the cover of a biography on the life of Mr. Crisp he started working on.

Nigel Kelly, like so many people (including me) fell for Mr. Crisp after viewing the teleplay The Naked Civil Servant. It showed an amazingly brave, funny and very British homosexual surviving in a hostile society. Finding the double album of An Evening With Quentin Crisp (the recording of his stage performance) in the local library really got me hooked. Mr. Crisp is a tonic!

Being convinced of Nigel Kelly's sincere intentions I still was hoping he would be able to pull it off. How does one tell the life story of such an unique person who is an exquisite writer or as somebody put it: Not only a genuinely amusing man but a pretty wise one.

Nigel Kelly succeeded extremely well.

Mixing information given by Mr. Crisp himself in his biographical books with the information he collected from friends and family and the one-liners that made Mr. Crisp famous/notorious Nigel Kelly turned the book into a very interesting and polished reading.

It is this new information that makes Mr. Crisp a real person. Who knew he loved being part of his family? Or that underneath his politeness also lay rage?

At times he kicked against shines, especially in the gay movement and Nigel Kelly tries to explain Mr. Crisp's motivations for certain comments. Personally I always felt that the gay community lacked an understanding of the society Mr. Crisp grew up in. Is it so hard to imagine what Mr. Crisp since the 1930s with scarlet dyed hair and gold painted finger- and toe nails, blind with mascara and dumb with lipstick had to live through? Daily, from hour to hour being vocally abused and very often physically attacked and left unconscious on the streets while passerby's looked the other way. For decades on end. This formed his view on the world, which was Britten at that time.

It remains unbelievable how this man first of all survived and then all of a sudden turned in to a celebrity after that teleplay. As soon as he got the change he swopped the UK for the USA, at the age of 74, to become the toast not only of the town nor the state or the country, but the whole world. Towards the end of his 90 years the details increase, as these memories are still freshest in people's minds. It shows that his final years were lived despite his physical decline in happiness. Even his death happened the way he wanted it.

Mr. Crisp's life is a story of willpower, intelligence, wit and triumph.

The book ends with Mr. Crisp`s philosophy, which hopefully will make the reader eager to read the highly entertaining books by Mr. Crisp himself. The final chapter is reserved for a few people who knew him. These words written with love and admiration express the impact of this little man on the big world.

Proud I am of being asked for my tiny artistic contribution to this fine book about the astounding Mr. Quentin Crisp.'

Maurice Heerdink

 

When watching a recent maudlin T.V. movie about Quentin Crisp I was reminded of how badly a biography of him was needed, and yet none was available. The crimes of humanity seem never to end.

The image of Crisp which prevails, evidently, is of a kooky old gay aunt who once in a while stuck his foot in his mouth, but was still cute & helped usher in the halcyon days of gay liberation. This is a gross affront. Crisp is, first of all, a difficult & central figure of 20th century culture who created a powerful field of personality (Harold Pinter became a playwright just by walking into his room), and who reigned for years as a media oracle, dispensing advice on manners to society even as he'd savage it.

His aphorisms, finely honed, have the effect of bombs. His withering put-downs of teenagers, gay culture, love, feminism, pornography, and nearly every other staple of modern life, are breathtaking in scope, the more so for being hilarious.

As a literary critic he has been especially poorly appreciated. His brutal take-down of Oscar Wilde in "How to Have a Lifestyle" still leaves one shaking.

Any of his books can be opened at random to find a startling insight. (I just did: "Here once again we see the strong connection between crime and sport.")

My favorite of his aphorisms: "If we got what we deserved, we would all starve."

After years of seeking out scraps of biographical facts in scattered books, hoping the last of his collections will be published (someday?), this entertaining & thoughtful read by Nigel Kelly comes along, fully justifying its price. The narrative of Crisp's life is outlined, as many fascinating facts which greatly amplify one's reading of Crisp's own books, are to be found on every page. The love story with 'Barndoor' is especially poignant, as one puts the book down & reflects on a man who, on the most painful day of his life, set aside his fantasies of love & willed himself into a state of "being." You should do the same.

Marsfan - Amazon Reviewer

Acknowledgments

When I think about how many people have helped me with this book I realize just how much of a collaborative effort it has been. Without them all it would be so much less and I know how much I owe to them.

So here they are -

Penny and Quentin on stage in Vienna
Performance artist Penny Arcade knew Quentin for the last eighteen years of his life and was a constant support to him, especially during the last years. In 1992 he named her his "Anima figure". Penny created The Last Will and Testament of Quentin Crisp which they performed together for many years until his death. They also appeared together in An Evening with Quentin Crisp and Penny Arcade. Penny is a significant figure in the new biographical film about Quentin An Englishman in New York.


Guy Kettelhack with Quentin and John Hurt
on the set of Resident Alien
Guy Kettelhack was a friend of Quentin's throughout his time in America. Guy's book The Wit and Wisdom of Quentin Crisp is a wonderful compendium of all things Crispian and he became known as a "Crisp expert". Guy was an influential figure during Quentin's years in America both professionally and as a friend. He was also Quentin's executor for many years. I also owe him a huge thank-you for his wonderful Foreword.


Phillip with Quentin
Phillip Ward knew Quentin during the last fourteen years of his life and particularly during the last years was a constant practical and emotional support. I also owe him a big thank-you for allowing me to use extracts from Quentin's last as yet unpublished book The Dusty Answers and material from the Quentin Crisp Archives and for giving me his permission to use the many quotes from Quentin which appear throughout the book. Phillip is Quentin's executor and runs the Quentin Crisp Archives which you can read about at www.crisperanto.org.


Tom and Quentin doing their rat face
Tom Steele first met Quentin shortly after his move to America and the two remained close friends until Quentin's death. Tom was associate publisher and editor of Theatre Week, Christopher Street (for which Quentin wrote film reviews), Opera Monthly, and the New York Native (for which Quentin wrote a weekly diary). Tom was also one of Quentin's most frequent cinema companions during his years in America. Tom is a major figure in the new film An Englishman In New York in which for dramatic reasons his character is amalgamated with Phillip Ward (Quentin's executor). Tom gave me some invaluable advice about publishing. He is also a keen and enthusiastic cook and has written books on cooking. He has a website www.hugeflavors.com.

Richard Gollner knew Quentin for thirty years, from the late 1960s until his death. Richard was Quentin's agent and later manager and accompanied Quentin on his first visits to the United States and elsewhere. Richard worked with Quentin on creating his one-man-show An Evening with Quentin Crisp in 1975, which he produced and directed. Richard still works as a literary agent in London.


David as Quentin in 'Quentin & I'
David Leddick, whom during an amazing life, has not only been a Naval Officer but a dancer at the New York Metropolitan Opera, Worldwide Creative Director for Revlon and International Creative Director for L'Oreal, a novelist and biographer, actor and cabaret entertainer. He knew Quentin for the last twenty years of Quentin's life and has created Quentin & I: a Mini-Musical as a tribute to his late friend.

Louis Colaianni knew Quentin for many years and he ran a web site called the Quentin Crisp Museum. He is a prominent voice and text coach in the professional theatre. He is an adjunct associate professor at Vassar College; teaches at The Actors Studio; and was associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He has published several books including The Joy of Phonetics and Accents and How to Speak Shakespeare.

A special posthumous thank-you to film producer June Lang. June was one of the first of Quentin's friends to make contact with me after I launched the site. She was so supportive and encouraging. We remained in regular contact after that talking about Quentin and her latest projects. She produced the short film My Lunch with Quentin Crisp as her tribute to her friend. Quentin also featured in her documentary Farewell to the Deuce. Sadly she passed away in August 2008 from cancer. I am sorry that she did not get to see the book in print she would have been so pleased.

Sculpter and artist John W Mills first met Quentin in 1947 and formed a friendship with him which would last for decades.

I think you will find some of his memories very interesting!

Quentin posing for John's sculpture.

The finished sculpture.
Art medal which John did in 2003
for the British Art Medal Society


Denise, Elaine and Francis.
At the memorial service for their uncle.
My thanks to Quentin's nieces, Denise Pratt-Renner, Elaine Pratt-Goycoolea and Francis Ramsay, his great niece Michèle Elaine Goycoolea Crawford and his great nephew film-maker Adrian Goycoolea for helping me fill out their family tree. Thanks also to Adrian for giving me a copy of his film about Quentin Uncle Denis, more on this at the end of the book. Adrian is currently lecturing at Sussex University in England. You can learn more about Adrian's films at www.sussex.ac.uk or at the International Movie Database www.imdb.com.

Writer, actor and producer David Alex Nahmod produced the film Red Ribbons which starred Quentin and wrote and starred in the short film Aunt Fannie, in which Quentin played the titled character.

Writer and director Neil Ira Needleman produced the films Aunt Fannie, Red Ribbons and wrote and directed the film Famous Again in which Quentin also appeared.


Quentin and georgina on the set
of Red Ribbons
Georgina Spelvin starred with Quentin in the films Red Ribbons and Famous Again. Georgina has written the first volume of her autobiography The Devil Made me do It, and is currently working on volume two.

Sara Moore wrote and directed Homo Heights in which Quentin gave his last feature-length acting performance.


David doing Quentin's makeup in 1978
David Hartnell MNZM has had a highly successful career as a makeup artist and has worked with many legends of the film world from Mae West to Joan Collins. In 1978 he was in New Zealand and did Quentin's makeup for his tour there as well as helping out during the stage performances. David has written seven books on makeup. He is now a Hollywood gossip columnist with a paper column, radio and TV slot and internet site and has also just written his second book on Hollywood David Hartnell's Hollywood Trivia. I owe David a big thank-you for doing some advance publicity for my book. David has written his autobiography David Hartnell: Memoir of a Gossip Columnist published in April 2011 by Penguin.

Film actor and stage performer Stephen Sorrentino who co-starred with Quentin in the film Homo aka Happy Heights for giving me permission to retell his story of how Quentin got his name.

Morgan Fisher for telling me about his experiences interviewing Quentin in London in 1980. Morgan is a composer who began his career in 1968 playing with the bands The Love Affair which had a no1 hit with Everlasting Love and in the 1970s played with the band Mott the Hoople. In 1982 he played keyboards on Queen's tour of Europe. He now lives in Japan and has continued composing and recording.


Connie Clausen at Quentin's
75th birthday.

Michael Andersen-Andrade
Michael Andersen-Andrade (Connie Clausen's son) for allowing me to use the photos of his mother.


Richard as Quentin in 'Tea N' Crisp'
Character actor Richard Louis James for allowing me to use a photo from his own one-man show Tea 'N' Crisp in which he brings Quentin back to life in the format of An Evening with Quentin Crisp, updated for the twenty-first century.

My thanks also to the photographer John D Kysela.


Leon as Quentin in 'Carved In Stone'.
Screen and stage actor Leon Acord for allowing me to use the photo of him as Quentin in Jeffrey Hartgraves's play Carved In Stone. Leon reprised his role in Los Angeles in the spring of 2009. You can catch up with Leon at www.leonacord.com. My thanks also to the photographer Peter Solari for giving me permission to use it.

Tim Fountain, author of the play Resident Alien: Quentin Crisp Explains it All. Tim is also the author of the biographical book Quentin Crisp and made the television documentary The Significant Death of Quentin Crisp.


John as Quentin in 'Resident Alien'.
Actor John Watson for allowing me to use the photo of him as Quentin in the New Zealand production of Resident Alien. I would also like to thank John for putting me in touch with David Hartnell. Also my thanks to the photographer Maxwell John Osborne.


One of David's photos of Quentin
in New York in 1997.
Photographer David Whitworth for sharing with me his experience of meeting Quentin in New York on New Years day 1997 and for allowing me to use his photographs.

Designer Miguel Adrover for talking to me about knowing Quentin in New York, his Quentin Crisp mattress overcoat creation (it will all make sense when you've read the book). I also owe a thank-you to Miguel's assistant Lluis Corujo


John as Quentin in
'An Englishman In New York' 2009.
I also owe a thank-yous to Richard Laxton (director of An Englishman in New York), to James Burstall, who is CEO of Leopard Films and to actor John Hurt for giving me their permission to use a photograph from the film. Thanks to Joanna Nicholas, James Burstall's Personal Assistant and to Jessica Sykes and Jennie Miller - assistants to Mr Laxton.


Maurice with some of his paintings
for his 2016 exhibition.
Maurice Heerdink for allowing me to use his beautiful portrait of Quentin on the front cover of the book. Maurice is a dedicated admirer of Quentin and has amassed a wealth of knowledge and material about him which he has shared with me.


Brandon with Quentin in 1999
To L. Brandon Krall, my thanks for sharing with me her experiences of meeting and filming Quentin during his 90th birthday run of An Evening With Quentin Crisp at the Intar Theatre.

My thanks to Raymond Luczak for letting me use his photograph of Quentin Crisp and Tom Steele doing their rat-face.

My thanks to Victory Van Dyke Chase for all her time and effort getting me material for the book.

I would also like to say that so many people were throughout totally and wonderfully supportive and encouraging. They took time out of their busy schedules to respond to my contacts, answer my questions and supply me with so much stuff. Penny, Guy, Phillip and Tom all proof-read my manuscript. Phillip once said to me "I want your book to be the best it can be." I suspect that there were times when I became a nuisance but they never once complained or refused a request. I do not now remember which of them it was who told me years ago that they would have done anything for Quentin while he was alive and still would. When I finally told them that I had found a publisher they were so delighted. Louis Colaianni said "If Quentin is watching, he is smiling." It is a testament not just to each of them, but also I think to the person Quentin was, that they so wholeheartedly participated in the creation of this book. It has been a privilege to have made contact with them and in a small way got to know them.

My sincerest thanks and admiration to you all!

And some special thank-yous to the following.

My sister Heather Kelly who proofread my manuscript so many times, corrected my spelling, grammar and spotted those split-infinitives. Heather quoted Quentin in her master's dissertation and was a valuable sounding board for bouncing ideas off and was a wonderful help in many other ways.

My wife Karen Curlett Kelly, who as always has been totally supportive, encouraging and understanding throughout and without whom nothing would be possible. She drew up the family tree at the end of the book, helped with images and so much more. Karen is a Graphic-Artist, you can view her work at www.karencurlettkelly.com.

I would also like to thank painter Tommy Barr for putting the idea of writing a book in my mind, though neither he nor I realised it at the time. He was also my first "public" reader. You can catch up with Tommy and see his work at www.tbarr.com.

Lastly but by no means least there is of course Quentin Crisp himself. So many times I found myself floundering not knowing how to proceed, how to phrase something. At these times I would remind myself of Quentin's advice about writing "All you have to ask yourself is have you said what you meant to say." It always got me moving again.

Thanks Quentin.

Foreword by Guy Kettelhack

I can think to offer no higher praise of Nigel Kelly's warm, straightforward, detailed account of Quentin Crisp's life than to say that its abiding effects are conversational. Mr. Kelly provides as simple and direct an extended answer as can be imagined to the question, "Who was Quentin Crisp?" As if over coffee at Quentin's favorite East Village diner in Manhattan, most readers will, I think, enjoy a sense of "settling in" with Nigel Kelly to hear a full report of a very rich life -- full of incident, art, writing, theatre, travel, family, friendship, losses and gains: indeed, a much more "normal" life than one might have expected from the p.r. (which Quentin Crisp, of course, did nothing to discourage), promoting the persona of a sort of lost waif -- an ill-equipped creature cast upon the waters of "fate" who initiated no choice beyond that which resulted in his remarkable appearance. "What else could I do?" is a quentissentially Crispian (and maybe not rhetorical) question.

Of course the question of "who Quentin Crisp was" remains, and surely will always remain, a conundrum. But one of the challenges - perhaps obstacles - to gaining entry to the Realm of Crisp through the writings of others, is that nearly every writer who's opined about him - myself included - has largely not been able to keep from appropriating Crisp for his or her own uses. I was introduced to Quentin Crisp in 1982, shortly after I signed on as his agent Connie Clausen's assistant. It was the beginning of an extraordinary friendship which, because it was involved with business (that is, the sacred object of getting Quentin money), became quite powerful, I'd like to think, in both our lives.

A word about Connie Clausen, which, simply because I'm one of the few still here to report on her friendship with Quentin, I seem all too singularly able to provide. She and Quentin adored each other - so comment is called for. Connie was a brilliant, beautiful, exasperating force of life - blonde and Wisconsin-raised - as American as Quentin was not. She'd had a stormy life full of dramatic rises and falls, which went from being a pink tutu-ed girl on the back of an elephant in the Barnum & Bailey circus (about which she later wrote a vibrant memoir), to working at MGM publicity during the heyday of Rooney and Garland, to acting on Broadway and television, to discovering "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and "Watership Down" at Macmillan (which instantly made her a vice-president), to starting her own literary agency on the proceeds of a settlement she'd received from New York City for having fallen down an open manhole - well, that gives you the barest sense of the wild ride. She'd seen Quentin perform in 1981, I believe, and was instantly smitten: decided right then and there that she had to represent him. Quentin (surely reiterating his eternal "I want what you want") happily agreed. Thus began an extraordinary bond - which I was privileged to observe from the front row - which consisted for me, often enough, of sitting at their knees during scotch-and-spaghetti dinners to which Quentin would bus uptown weekly. Hollywood, to both Quentin and Connie, was Olympus - or anyway, had been during its 'heyday.' I was privy to a charmed love - Connie with her good-natured cursing, Quentin with his incisive very funny "politesse." It was the first clue of many - many more provided by Nigel Kelly in this biography - that Quentin Crisp was, despite many rumors to the contrary, a very happy man.

Talk to anyone who knew Quentin in as particular a way, and you'll receive a flood of anecdote. It's my contention that you could get to know the essential Quentin Crisp merely by having lunch with him at his favorite diner - you could, anyway, if you were paying attention. He gave himself unstintingly to anyone who asked. Of course what you made of what he gave you wasn't his business. And indeed, a lot has been written and said about him which always says more about the observer than about Crisp.

Not that Quentin minded this - or would mind now. He expected it, and applauded it. (It was publicity, which he craved!) Like two of the icons he most revered, Greta Garbo and Andy Warhol, he wanted only to provide a "blank canvas" onto which others might feel free to paint their own pictures - which virtually always became self-portraits. We are, as Quentin believed, not trapped but liberated by our own points-of-view. We may be all we have, but oh - the wonders that embracing our idiosyncrasies can bring to life - and to engaging with each other! The shows we can put on! (Like the Connie-and-Quentin show.)

So, we have a not inconsiderable body of articles (academic and otherwise), plays, biographies, memoirs, films and one-man/woman-shows created either by those who "knew Quentin when" or who for some ideological or personal or mercantile reason felt that he represented something crucial which required expression - but which, whatever their merits or failings, can't allow us to see the unadorned Crisp.

Nigel Kelly has come closest to anyone I've read to doing just that: not only by providing a clear narrative of Crisp's life - but by regularly punctuating it with Crisp's own words. I don't think I've ever heard Quentin Crisp emerge more strikingly, in a context provided by someone other than himself, than in this book. Crisp's sharpness, acuity, wit, intelligence all gleam herein - not least because of the marvelously unobtrusive frame Nigel Kelly provides.

The only fault I can find in Nigel Kelly's modesty is that he says virtually nothing about himself. He will, I hope, forgive me for telling what I know about him. I had the pleasure of meeting Nigel and his wife Karen on a very wet Thanksgiving night in London in 2009. He and Karen hadn't been to London for some years - they live in a town in Northern Ireland - so I had the welcome sense that this was as much a special trip for them as it was for me. Circumstantially, things couldn't have gone worse. Not only was it raining hard, but the Chelsea pub (one I had thought from the outside would be civilized and quiet enough for conversation; it also wasn't far from the Chelsea Arts Club which figures in Quentin's past) and the South Kensington restaurant to which I dragged the long-suffering Kellys were rowdy and noisy and we had, virtually, to shout at each other to be heard. But what amiable shouting it turned out to be. Following Quentin's example, we soldiered on - wet, deafened and bedraggled. We had a great and gratifying time.

Nigel Kelly told me he was a boy in his early teens when he first saw "The Naked Civil Servant" on television. He lived in a then still very war-torn part of Northern Ireland, collectively a society in which revealing "who you were" had great and often fatal consequences. Nigel was riveted by Crisp's courage: by this tale of a man who clearly didn't feel he could be anything other than "who he was." He began what has turned into a lifelong fascination with Quentin Crisp, whom he regarded then, and regards now, quite simply as a hero. Chance, luck, interest and receptivity alerted him to various opportunities which have led him to a worldwide correspondence with Crisp's friends, Crispian 'experts' and other aficionados via a website he constructed for the purpose, which have led him to the writing of this book.

Nigel will, I hope, forgive me for outing him as a heterosexual - which I do here only to underscore that "sexuality" or a "gay" identification with Quentin Crisp, isn't, as it has been for so many others, what's drawn him to Crisp. Nigel seems to me to have "gotten" Quentin Crisp in a very rare way: he sees the man without defensiveness. I'm not sure one can say that about very many other Crisp observers. His interest here is, I believe, in teasing out the particulars of whatever gave rise to the phenomenon of a man who so evidently, heroically (and for so long), was able to "be himself." This degree of self-realization took something extraordinary - something which will always deserve our attention and curiosity. Nigel Kelly does his considerable unpretentious best to offer us, if not explanation, than at least a better sense of the context and details of Crisp's life which underlie this "achievement of self" than we've had from anyone else.

Do please sit down now with Mr. Kelly's story of Mr. Crisp, and find this out for yourself. You'll enjoy the conversation. Then, as I think you will want to do, return to the extraordinary words of Quentin Crisp himself - words to which this book provides a wonderfully welcome and useful introduction.

Guy Kettelhack

Editor & Compiler of The Wit & Wisdom of Quentin Crisp"

Former New York agent, with Connie Clausen, of Quentin Crisp