Socialist leader David McReynolds remembers Quentin Crisp
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Nov 22 08:58:27 MST 1999
Vicki Rovere just called me with the news from NPR that Quentin has at last
found relief from the eczema that drove him crazy, from heart pains that left
him unable to walk far, and from prostate problems that complicated the
simplest human function.
I know from more than one occasion when we talked that he looked forward to
this liberation. (Not just from his audacious confrontation with street
traffic in New York - for Quentin, red meant go right into the middle of
traffic - but from comments he had made as we walked and he would stop and
pause, hobbled by the pain).
What a remarkable man.
Politically a complete reactionary. Shunned in parts of the gay world
because he was profoundly incorrect politically. Sometimes in jest, often
quite seriously. He came from a different world, a different place in time,
and while his politics were terrible, he was wonderful.
Opinionated, yet I never heard him say a hurtful word about anyone, unless
it was to deplore their acting, or the direction of a film. In general he
looked on the world with wonder. The one great and true love of his life
seems to have been New York City. His second and abiding passion was cinema.
He never saw a film twice, yet he recalled plot lines, gestures, phrases, as
if he had seen all the films a dozen times each.
When I would ask him what fim he wanted to see - I think we caught a film
together about once a month - it was usually a film filled with gore and
violence. (Though not always). The last film we saw was the decidedly
unbloody (for the most part) and, we both thought, wonderful film "American
No more Goose dinners at the holiday season, with Quentin saying "Is this
dish kinky? I don't like kinky things". (Ah, but he loved the goose!).
When he mentioned famous people he had met, he wasn't mentioning them in
the sense of "Aren't you lucky to know me, since I know so and so" but rather
"Isn't it amazing that I am lucky enough to move through those wonderful
circles - who would ever have guessed it!". He didn't drop names - he shared
them. He brought you gloriously into his world.
I must have known Quentin for at least five years, probably longer than that
if I kept a diary. He needed a good listener, because he wanted to talk about
the things he had seen and done, not as a series of boasts, but as a sharing
of events, strange and mysterious, that seemed to envelop his world.
He lived in a small one room apt. on East Third Street - he had promised to
let me shoot a photograph of him there in the midst of a room more tidy than
you might imagine, but that chance is gone - right across from Mary House of
the Catholic Workers, and the Hell's Angels. It wasn't the Catholics that
excited him, but the Hell's Angels.
Because I know just how much pain he was in, I remained in wonder at how
little he let it stop him from his appointed rounds. He was fond of saying
"Isn't it amazing, that I've been in this country for all these years and
I've never worked a day in my life!". But he did work. Very hard. When he did
his off-Broadway show last season he had a serious cold. Perhaps the flu. He
was, at least, profoundly unwell and most of us would have taken to bed,
off-Broadway or not. But Quentin made it, every night, to put on his two hour
Not work? What a jest. He was a trouper, a hard worker, a great admirer of
British royalty. A decent person who had to search hard for an unkind word,
whose laugh was always real, whose love of conversation (even if much of it
was one way) was a passion.
I have lost a friend, all of us who knew him have lost someone very special.
Fortunate are those of us who had a chance to share a meal with him at his
favorite haunt, the old "Cooper Diner" on East Fifth Street. (He didn't
approve of the changes when they moved across the street - they didn't have a
liquor license at the new place and he was fond of a whiskey at the end of
And now to light the candle of remembrance.
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