Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2000-2001

Warren Allen Smith

Gossip from Across the Pond

by Warren Allen Smith

Quentin Crisp died one year ago last November. To commemorate his death, a gathering of photos and paintings about his life was shown at a gallery on the Lower East Side.

When he spoke once at a Universalist Society meeting in Manhattan, the British-born author of The Naked Civil Servant who fled decades ago to New York City told me he was not a believer in any of the organized religions and also didn’t believe in immortality, except in the sense of a creative person’s being remembered after his lifetime. Gallery owners knew that Crisp would come to openings if food and drink were available, and in fact he would go anywhere where there were free refreshments.

In 1993 Crisp played the role of Queen Elizabeth I in a Sally Potter movie, Orlando, and he loved Hollywood films. When he reviewed The Godfather for a Greenwich Village paper, he noted that the narrative managed to drag in Pope John Paul I, who, in real life, Crisp wrote, “died so suspiciously soon after his enthronement [that he was] rumored to have been poisoned with lethal cups of tea.” His comments, of course, teed off the Vatican.

At one movie, I sat next to him and enquired if, at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, he was once asked if he was a practicing homosexual and had responded, “I didn’t practice: I was already perfect.” With a touch of the dainty scarf around his neck, Quentin laughed and confirmed the story.

We who attended the November showing of photos and paintings missed seeing Quentin seated somewhere in the gallery. Then again, there were no refreshments!

Paul Bowles is back. He arrived at Gate 2 in the US Airways terminal at La Guardia at the end of 1999, waiting for a twin-prop commuter plane to fly him to a small town in upstate New York, Glenora.

As described by Robert Sullivan in the New Yorker, the executor of Bowles’s estate, Joe McPhillips, headmaster of the American School of Tangier, carried the canister with the Bowles ashes. He had thought Bowles would want to be buried in Tangier but, no, he chose to be buried in the family plot in Lakemont, several miles north of Glenora. The cemetery overseer had dug a small eighteen-inch-by-eighteen-inch hole for Bowles, and some of those who had heard about the burial appeared and asked if they could touch the canister. “Uh, yes, OK”, McPhillips said. Then he showed another box, one he had brought from Tangier, some earth from Morocco and a tape of his music. A coin and some flowers went into the box, the overseer produced a big black plastic bucket full of dirt, and anyone who wanted could help shovel. “I wish we had known you, Paul”, said one. Others made personal remarks. No formalities whatsoever for the avowed non-believer!

McPhillips then returned to his car, later concerned that he had forgotten to do something. He had been going to read a scene from Bowles’s first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949), in which Port dies. “Oh, dear”, he said, aware that it was too late.

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Created : Sunday, 2001-04-15 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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