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Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll discuss their book "Doing It with Style"

BROADCAST: Oct. 23, 1981 | DURATION: 00:52:42


Discussing the book "Doing it with style" with the authors Donald Carroll and Quentin Crisp.


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Studs Terkel Finding out who you are these days may be more difficult than it was centuries ago, I don't know. But finding out who you are is perhaps a more difficult quest than the Holy Grail, the quest for the Holy Grail. And there is one man, a quite remarkable person, Quentin Crisp. You perhaps may remember his name. Of course you've seen him played by the actor John Hurt in that marvelous PBS and BBC program "The Naked Civil Servant", and Crisp is my guest today with his colleague, Donald Carroll, together. Donald Carroll, publisher, writer who's lived in England, the United States and together the book is called "Doing It with Style", and style is what it's about, style related to living itself, to being I should say. And Franklin Watts are the publishers, and I call this my rocking chair show, because with Quentin Crisp around and Donald Carroll, there's little need for me to say too much. I've said too much already. So in a moment Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll as my guests. [pause in recording] I thought -- that's Donald Carroll talking to Quentin Crisp here, and I was thinking I first met you Quentin about 11, 12 years ago. You had a little flat in Chelsea, I remember that, and the dust was gathering, and you said to this

Quentin Crisp Gathering? It, excuse me, it had gathered.

Studs Terkel It had gathered.

Quentin Crisp For 30 years before you got there.

Studs Terkel And suppose we hear Quentin talking then at the time. This was 1970, it was. And I asked you a question: You yourself, from early childhood on?

Quentin Crisp Well, from childhood on, I was homosexual of course. That is to say, I lived in this dream of being a woman. If you'd asked me when I was young what I wanted to be, I -- heaven knows what I would have said, but I wouldn't have said I wanted to be an engine driver, and I wouldn't have said that I wanted to be an admiral on a ship. You see, the fact is when I was young all I really wanted of course was to be a chronic invalid, because then I would have been able to live at home forever. I would have been special, I would have been looked after. Well, this I couldn't bring off, because I was one of four children, and therefore the attention was divided between all of us. And of course this I never -- I never forgave. Because I only understand myself. I make no comparison between myself and other people. Therefore, if you say you've got a fair share of what's going, this is no answer. In the book it actually says, "A fair share of anything is starvation diet to an egomaniac," and this is true. And now of course I'm on, I'm on the way down again, because I'm now 61, and I live in a world where nothing I could do or say would demonstrate that I was homosexual, since there are people on scaffoldings mending buildings, they're afraid of getting their pearls caught in the scaffolding.

Studs Terkel We're talking now about [fades out]. Do you remember that conversation?

Quentin Crisp Yes, I do.

Studs Terkel There's something you said, and that's the key to this book you and Donald Carroll have been "Doing It with Style", about not judging other people, simply yourself in a sense knowing who you are.

Quentin Crisp Yes. Your style is based on who you have decided you are, and very few people can do this immediately. They have to do it gradually. Indeed you could say the cultivation of your style was a life work, but infinitely worth it.

Donald Carroll Simply because the journey towards discovering your identity is a lifetime journey, and to create a style is to process that identity and then project it to the world, offer it to the

Studs Terkel So now even though your style always in the very beginning, Quentin, had been, indeed was to others, particularly of an earlier time, outrageous. You suffered the slings and arrows of the most outrageous fortune that you sought in a sense.

Quentin Crisp Well, I didn't really seek it. I didn't wish to annoy the world, and I didn't even wish to be unlike other people. I only wished to be exactly like myself, because that is the only way in which you can be sure that you never have anything on false pretenses. All the friendship, all the loyalty, even the employment that you receive you know must be directed to you, because you'll have presented yourself to the world in a way that they cannot doubt.

Studs Terkel As we begin talking, entering the book itself, "Doing It with Style" with you, Donald Carroll and Quentin, this one matter of knowing who you are, but also something I'm pre-- and not to pretend to be that which you're not, but there's something else. When you said in that earlier interview you want to be a chronic invalid and of course if you were, you'd also have the attention of others, because that "Naked Civil Servant", that remarkable television program, perhaps one of the best ever on TV with John Hurt as you, he was really you, Quentin Crisp, a performer. You were on stage far, far more than being homosexual. It was being onstage, wasn't that part

Quentin Crisp This does happen, of course, if you are the one among the many. Inevitably you become conscious of yourself and conscious of the way in which other people see you, because they're not ashamed to tell you what they, how they see you. So then you'll have to ask yourself what is it that causes all this attention? And then you have an external view of yourself which is not founded on mere daydreams about what you would like to be. You have to come to terms with your own view of yourself and the world view of yourself, and that is the basis of your identity, which you then convert into a style.

Donald Carroll It's true. I was think--

Studs Terkel Yes, Donald.

Donald Carroll No, I was I was thinking, thinking a very personal thought at that stage because my view of myself has changed as we travel the country together, because Quentin has started telling me things about myself

Studs Terkel About you.

Donald Carroll In the 15 years that I've known him, he's never had the gall, I mean the courage to mention before. He thinks I'm bitchy.

Studs Terkel Yeah. You know what I was thinking? Well, we'll come to that subject of bitchiness and retaliation when someone does you an indignity. Perhaps all that now. See, what is remarkable about Quentin Crisp is you also know who the others are who may be attacking you, as indeed you were physically as well as psychically attacked most of your life, yet your way of not hurting their dignity was astonishing. You did not retaliate in kind.

Quentin Crisp No, you do not retaliate. Of course, if you're in the weaker position it would be unwise to retaliate, quite simply from a practical point of view. In the street for instance you are almost never attacked by one person. So to defend yourself would be a great mistake. But also it isn't part of style, really, because you have to find a way of presenting yourself to the world which admits that you're different but doesn't claim that you're better.

Donald Carroll Well, something that is utterly unthreatening to others, and Quentin has perfected this in his, his -- it's not just passivity, it's serenity, so that I think anyone who is tempted to beat up on him, after three blows begins to feel absolutely foolish.

Studs Terkel Because this is what happened many times to you, Quentin.

Quentin Crisp Oh, yes.

Studs Terkel And this, same -- but there's one moment. And -- by the way, this is not unrelated to style, as Quentin makes very clear here, we'll continue with that in mo-- but there was one moment in "The Naked Civil Servant" which is your autobiography that was for those who may not know, televised, adapted and became a quite remarkable hour and a half program. There's one moment when you're spoke -- the police were testifying against you and you were on that stand, and you did not say they lied. You can say that, though they did, you didn't say that.

Quentin Crisp No, I said that they had misunderstood the evidence. It is firstly useless to say the police are lying. It makes them more hostile, and no magistrate in England is unless driven to it ever going to say that you have been maliciously arrested, because that leads to a counter-charge against the police. So it's best to regard the whole thing as an unfortunate mistake.

Studs Terkel And therefore their dignity is preserved.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Studs Terkel Were you -- did you, are you aware of any time in which you actually swung [at?] some of the policemen who may have been hostile to you, to a more sympathetic attitude because of your manner?

Quentin Crisp I don't know that whether this would be so. It -- I suppose it could be. If you get a chance to talk to a policeman in the street who is suspicious that you are either a prostitute or that you are loitering with what is grandly called felonious intent, if you got a chance to talk to him and your attitude is not defensive, only explanatory, their attitude does occasionally change.

Studs Terkel The -- you -- this is both to Donald and Quentin. Are you aware how close your philosophy, your approach is to that of Martin Luther King? The idea of it was active non-resistance, or passive resistance is precisely what you were -- there was a remarkable parallel here.

Quentin Crisp In a sense, yeah.

Donald Carroll And I think Quentin, like Martin Luther King, has played a very large part in changing the attitudes towards what is an oppressed minority. Homosexuals. I happen not to be one. But there is an astonishing parallel there, and we saw evidence of the change when you, Quentin, arrived in this country. Tell Studs what the immigration official said to you.

Quentin Crisp When I came from Toronto to New York, I showed my passport for the first time, and the official looked at it, he was a giant and he looked at it and gave it back to me, and just as I was turning away, he leaned down and said, "Is it nice to be vindicated at last?"

Studs Terkel Isn't that beautiful.

Donald Carroll And from that moment on, Quentin's been in love with this country.

Studs Terkel I know that Quentin also does this one-man performance I hope can someday come to Chicago. It's theater, definitely -- well, the word theater. We come to it now. Style and theater and yourself. Style. Style is not fad. There's a difference, isn't there?

Quentin Crisp Oh, yes. It is not fashion of course, first of all, because fashion is something you adopt if you don't know who you are. You're then merely safe, you're wearing what the glossy magazines say you should wear, so you know you can't be doing it wrong. You won't be laughed at, you won't be criticized. But if you have a style, you will have your style for a lifetime. Therefore, it will only bend toward fashion in the slightest bit. You don't resist fashion, but you don't adopt it without considering is it really a representation of you?

Donald Carroll See, when you're fashionable, you're simply signing a petition circulated by others, but when you have style in your dress and your self-presentation, you're issuing a manifesto about who you are.

Studs Terkel That's interesting, the [difference] between a petition and a manifesto, a petition signed and a manifesto written. And so it is your manifesto. The style is the manifesto of that person who has style, which of course means something that accentuates his very uniqueness.

Donald Carroll It's, well, you -- Quentin often says that nobody ever comes up to him and talks to him about the weather. You see Quentin and you know there's no point in asking him what he thinks of the snow falling. You go up and say, "What is it like to be effeminate or homosexual or flamboyant or outrageous or just distinguished older man?"

Studs Terkel So style then is the hallmark of that person.

Quentin Crisp That's right. And it is a form of communication.

Donald Carroll Oh, yes. It's like wearing -- I don't know what they're called in this country, in England called "sandwich boards," that people who walk up and down advertising something. Well, your clothes are a form of sandwich board. You're just advertising yourself.

Studs Terkel There was a marvelous engineer in Italy named Pier Luigi Nervi. He's the engineer architect response for much of the New Italy in buildings, and Pier Luigi Nervi once said, "Style is that which is innate and which is permanent, durable. Fashion is that which passes from one day to the next, fast. So it's a question of that which lasts and that which is of the moment.

Donald Carroll It's quite true. In fact, since we wrote the book we came across a wonderful quote I wish we could have used. Alfred Hitchcock once said that style is self-plagiarism. In other words, you find out who you are and then plagiarize yourself shamelessly and publicly forever.

Studs Terkel So to use a phrase of a man named David Riesman, a sociologist, you're an inner-directed person rather than an outer-directed person.

Donald Carroll He's a lonely crowd.

Studs Terkel He's a

Donald Carroll He's a lonely crowd.

Studs Terkel Lonely crowd.

Quentin Crisp Yes, this is true. And of course you have your style first of all for yourself, and only secondly for the world, because first of all, you want to be absolutely sure that you have arrived at a stage when you are beyond doing something which you wish you didn't do. You must know any number of people who say, "And then I did the unwisest thing." Well, this is, they say this as though they were boasting. It must be something you wish to survive, you wish to get to a time when you never do the unwisest thing, except in the sense that you haven't all the facts to hand. In other words, the unwisdom is from outside, you no longer deliberately commit acts of folly, which a lot of people do.

Donald Carroll You see, style is not only a compass, it's also the one thing that cannot be taken from you. I used to work for Mr. de Valera in Ireland, and I asked him once, you know, why -- well, I offered him a cigarette, and he said he stopped smoking after 1916 when he was imprisoned by the British. And I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, I went down the list of things they could take away from me, and the only thing I would miss would be cigarettes, so I stopped smoking." And your style is the one thing that cannot be taken away from you, and they couldn't take away his style. As we all know.

Studs Terkel And so de Valera, and of course the case, in the case of Quentin Crisp, it's fairly obvious they would have to destroy you physically [to?] take away that which made you so astonishing and unique to the many. So, using your life, your experience, as the catapult. We jump off and we enter. So there someone says, "How does one get style?" You don't get it, do

Quentin Crisp No, you don't get it.

Donald Carroll Well, you can buy the book.

Studs Terkel You buy the book.

Quentin Crisp You buy the book and apart from that you ask yourself who you really are, and you were trying to resist the daydreams that everybody has, in which you would think, if things were right, I could be this, that and the other. It's no good doing this. You must only pursue those objectives for which you see in yourself you have some capacity.

Donald Carroll See, too many people model themselves on others, or try to create a mode of behavior taken in part from the behavior of others, people they admire, and you can't go about it that way, because then you become a pastiche of other people. You've got to find out who you are and then exteriorize this, even theatricalize it.

Studs Terkel Whereas as Quentin did, of course. You theatricalize. You mean style might also involve accentuating.

Quentin Crisp Systematizing.

Studs Terkel Systematizing.

Quentin Crisp You have to find a way of presenting it to yourself and to the world, because the same is true of life as is true of literature. Literature -- style in literature is never a question of allowing a rain of bejeweled phrases to fall on banal material, and so in yourself you can't make yourself more stylish by just adding things. You must take away everything which does not represent who you feel you are.

Studs Terkel I think Donald Carroll was saying on that very point. This is not too removed from being a Method actor. Did you say it in here? Somewhere I saw it, thought it was [phrase?].

Donald Carroll Yes, you're playing a lifetime rule. You're playing yourself, and the Method is not something that is superimposed. It is not a technique, it is not an artifice. It was simply systematizing your personality, making it a persona. But it's -- ultimately you have to tell the truth about yourself, not just verbally, not just orally, but in everything you do. Your behavior, your actions, your movements, your gestures, your dress. You are telling your -- apartment, your house, you're telling the truth about who you

Studs Terkel You know and that of course this leads to the tragic case I think of Quentin Crisp, but Oscar Wilde. Here's a predecessor who in suing for libel or slander whatever -- he and the Lord Douglas suing -- Douglas's father-in-law [sic - father], the mar--

Donald Carroll The Marquess of Queensbury.

Studs Terkel Was denying who he was!

Donald Carroll Exactly.

Quentin Crisp Oh, yes, you get to the weakness of Mr. Wilde's life very early. He said, "In matters of importance, it is not sincerity that counts, but style." But [were truer stylist?], they're the same thing.

Donald Carroll And that's why, that's why he fell apart when he went to Reading Gaol and started writing this mawkish drivel.

Studs Terkel You call that mawkish drivel? Do you? I liked it, the "Ballad of the [Briton?]"

Donald Carroll [Unintelligible] taste.

Studs Terkel Let's come back to Wilde, though, that the -- Wilde and Quentin. You -- were you to deny what you were as he did when he sued, didn't he? Because the basis of a suit is untruth.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Donald Carroll Oh! But not in England. That's probably a subject of another discussion. The greater the truth, the greater the libel still holds in England.

Studs Terkel Yeah. That's right. But nonetheless talking about Wilde, though, it was

Quentin Crisp He never accepted how sordid his life

Donald Carroll Having tried systematically to outrage the middle classes, when he succeeded he then retreated into the very corner he'd painted himself into and started snapping back and suing, and then lapsed in jail into self-pity.

Studs Terkel Ah, so we come to the, one of the credos of your book about non-retaliation. So we come back to that again, don't we?

Quentin Crisp Yes. It's the people who feel that they are justified who are least likely to retaliate.

Studs Terkel By the way, as we're talking, Quentin, you don't -- when I ask a question, that's not simply a question, it's to open up the floodgates of your, of your thoughts as well, so you can just freely associate as you go along. Who knows it better than he does? I suppose the one-man show that you do involves that, doesn't it?

Quentin Crisp Oh, yes. There I really don't do anything. I don't sing, I don't dance, I don't act. I only talk to the audience. Chiefly about happiness I suppose, ultimately, which I think you can reach through knowing exact -- accepting yourself. In other words, you have to embrace your limitations as well as your possibilities.

Studs Terkel We're talking to Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll, and the book is "Doing It with Style", published by Franklin Watts, and we'll do perhaps during the second half, we'll just pick up on the book itself the various sequences and in a sense but, and we'll just take off from there. [pause in recording] And my guests are Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll. And the book is "Doing It with Style". And there's a quote right here of Auden, and this is interesting, this is I think this is one of the problems of all of us. Wrote Auden, "The image of myself," this is from "Doing It with Style". "The image of myself which I try to create in my own mind in order that I may love myself is very different from the image which I try to create in the minds of others in order that they may love me."

Donald Carroll It's a very sad quote.

Studs Terkel So

Donald Carroll It's a very sad quote, and that's why we have a whole chapter for example, on being shady with style, and we include both politicians and criminals, and politicians -- people say, "Why politicians?" and we explain that it's because a politician by the very nature of his job seeks approval, and a scientist never seeks approval.

Studs Terkel And therefore rarely does a politician have style, because he seeks the approval of others that is to be not what he may be.

Donald Carroll His very existence.

Quentin Crisp Not if he's at the very top. English Prime Ministers have quite often had style. Mr. Churchill had a very pronounced style, and Lloyd George had a pronounced style, it's on the way out so that you are more cautious about what you reveal about yourself and what you reveal to the world. But Winston's -- in England all public fingers have to be respectable in their sexual lives which of course has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are able to rule a country or not. Indeed the opposite. If you are somebody who thinks you know how to rule the world, it's almost certain that you are friskier, livelier, more vital and more full of imagination than other people, so it's probable that your sex life will be in question to people who only want respectability, but this you can never say, so this is like being as Mr. Carroll says, a criminal. They do move forward. The criminals press out further and further upon the idea of being discovered. They behave more and more outrageously. In the end they write to the police giving them clues, because to be so, such a wonderful criminal and unknown is unbearable.

Studs Terkel Of course. So therefore you find this so often now and the age of television. A guy may do something outrageous, this loony, this crook or this guy, he says, "I'll surrender if I'm interviewed by somebody on TV."

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Studs Terkel So he says, "Look at me!"

Donald Carroll Of course, and Quentin, I must get Quentin to talk about this. What happens then is that he is sanctified by the very experience of being on television.

Quentin Crisp Oh yes, I, a book, well, is already out in England and will come out in America in the spring, which is called a "How to Become a Virgin", and this of course that you go onto television, whereupon all your sins are taken away.

Donald Carroll Yes. I mean, one can go on television and confess to the most grotesque mass murdering and child molesting, and people will not cross the street to avoid you. Once they see you, they will cross the street to shake your hand and say, "I saw you

Studs Terkel Now we're touching on something else: you have become a celebrity. Well, Quentin Crisp [himself?] in an affirmative way you see, Quentin is known now, and so indeed, you -- no one would even think of putting you down, because he's known once upon a time

Donald Carroll Well, wherever we go, wherever we go, people rush up to him, but not with raised clubs or fists, but to shake his hands.

Studs Terkel As once upon a time. And so you have, now if we look at the shady side of it. You could have a guy say he was the head of a syndicate in Chicago once, now suddenly deceased, Momo Giancana, and Momo's wearing shades and he's sitting in a tavern or in a club where the quote unquote beautiful people are. "You know who that is? That's Momo Giancana." Now the guy was a vile brute in every way involved, he's now dead, and do not speak ill, indeed I do speak ill of him and so, he, but they say, "That's Momo Giancana." "No kidding. What's he say?" This is during the Vietnam War [unintelligible]. He says, "Bomb Hanoi." "Did you hear what he said? 'Bomb Hanoi.'" "Who said it?" "Momo Giancana!" Well, then someone starts taking it seriously.

Donald Carroll We had a similar experience yesterday in Boston. We were on a television show, and at the end of the show the lady said, "Our guests today have been Donald Carroll and Quentin Crisp. Tomorrow we have a Mafia hit man."

Studs Terkel That's it!

Donald Carroll Really!

Studs Terkel That's we're talking about. So that celebrity has nothing whatsoever to do with style.

Quentin Crisp It is one of the results

Donald Carroll of Success.

Quentin Crisp Style, but it is not the object of style. The object of style is first of all to come to a peaceful relationship with yourself. And I think that Mr. Kaye said "You cannot love 'til you have at least settled for yourself."

Donald Carroll Danny Kaye.

Studs Terkel Oh, Danny Kaye. Oh. All right. So we're talking about style and speech now. Another aspect, style and speech, again it's not -- it's there, I mean everyone wants to read and know, everyone wants to be considered. I think everybody wants to be considered intelligent. Everybody does and tries in one way or another tries to win the respect of another, don't you think so? This is

Quentin Crisp I think people want to be thought to be intelligent. In England people wish not to be thought intellectual, and intelligence, which I take to be the ability to infer results from causes, this they do want to have.

Studs Terkel When I say intelligence, I didn't mean quote unquote intellectual. I didn't mean the necessity for a college education. I meant intelligent just as you say.

Donald Carroll What did we call intelligent that more often than not on an intuitive level there's such a resistance to the idea of articulateness. When you think of it, something like smooth talking is used as a pejorative. People say, "Well, he's smooth talking," or "He's too glib." And in fact, the more articulate you are, the more respect you show for your listeners, because you would expect them to -- they at least deserve an intelligent response, an articulate response, and you want to make your voice and your conversation as perfectly representative of your thoughts as you possibly can, and if they're complex, so is your speech.

Studs Terkel Now, you raise a point here with which I may differ. This is to Donald primarily, and also to Quentin too, about a thoroughly unattractive character can have style, see. I could see that in Hitler, you see, Hitler, but you mention Gordon Liddy as having style, I, I have to part ways with you

Donald Carroll Have you ever met him?

Studs Terkel I've seen him on television.

Donald Carroll Utterly disgusting, loathsome and wretched little man. But he is consistently wretched and loathsome, and consistency is, is

Studs Terkel Oh, consistency as an attribute of style.

Quentin Crisp Oh yes.

Studs Terkel So he's consistent.

Donald Carroll I'm sure he tore wings off flies as a little boy. I'm sure that he brutalizes his children.

Studs Terkel Well, then they ask a question. See, I would -- I've got to watch out for libel or slander so I say -- let us assume someone is loony, as nutty as a fruitcake. Can someone who is removed from reality have style?

Quentin Crisp No. Because then everything you see about him is unpredictable.

Donald Carroll It's an accident.

Quentin Crisp You see, he may do or say something quite wonderful, but this is no help, because he may be doing it or saying it by mistake. It doesn't arise from a consistent acceptance of yourself, and it is that which informs the way you dress, so that you may see in various fashion something which you would think would suit you. And then you adopt it, but you do not adopt it only because it's fashionable, and the same with the furnishing of your house. You may see advertisements for furniture that you think are just right for you. So you go out and you buy it, but you don't buy it only because bamboo is in and wrought iron is out, or any of those. And style is much more difficult to acquire now because everything is available. The Mary Quantum theory has not worked.

Studs Terkel Mary Quantum is

Quentin Crisp Mary Quant is our fashion

Studs Terkel Oh, Mary Quant, you called Mary -- you're taking off, you're punning on the fashion designer from England

Quentin Crisp That's right.

Studs Terkel Who did stuff for skinny girls.

Quentin Crisp That's

Studs Terkel Now I

Quentin Crisp You see, she assumed that if everything was available, people would at last choose what really suited them. But if everything is available, everything will be bought. This is the mail-order syndrome. People buy a grand piano because it looks so nice in the illustration, and nobody in the house can play the damn thing.

Studs Terkel This is anti-style.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of the book and, this is not a how-to book, it's really a book of wit and of humor and of different attribute -- or eating. All right. Food. There were certain characters I'm sure in English life as in American life. Diamond Jim Brady, turn of the century, was known as the last of the big-time spenders, but he was a glutton, Now, gluttony, and of course you describe food here. Did Henry the VIII have style?

Quentin Crisp Oh, I think Henry the VIII did have style.

Donald Carroll The very fact that today, in 1981, we're talking about it, is better than [certain?] style.

Studs Terkel But if someone is a glutton as he may have been, probably was.

Quentin Crisp Refinement isn't necessarily style, but of course like people who go on world cruises and who eat everything because everything is on the menu, this is a mistake. You must eat the food which suits you. And then when people come to visit you, they will know the kind of food they will get. Because you always live simply, or you always live elaborately, or whatever it is. They will learn to know what to expect from you. And this goes through your entire life, but the core is yourself. You have only one thing to offer the world that nobody else can give, and that's yourself.

Studs Terkel But I've got to raise a point here. If there is consistency, and they will KNOW, that also means predictability.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Studs Terkel But isn't spontaneity part of style?

Quentin Crisp Never.

Studs Terkel Really?

Quentin Crisp You must know what you're doing and saying.

Donald Carroll Yes, you must rehearse your adlibs.

Studs Terkel Oh, you gotta rehearse your adlibs!

Quentin Crisp That's right.

Studs Terkel But then you become

Quentin Crisp In fact, style is the continuous rehearsed adlib.

Studs Terkel But what happens to spontaneity?

Quentin Crisp There isn't any.

Studs Terkel You're a spontaneous person at times, that is, when -- you don't always say the same thing.

Donald Carroll Even when he talks in his sleep he does.

Studs Terkel He does.

Quentin Crisp I tend to say the same kind of thing. No, you don't always -- I do repeat myself a great deal. But then that is because I'm always asked the same

Donald Carroll And the reason he's asked the same question is that he's the same person and everyone knows exactly who Quentin Crisp is. That's -- goes back to what I was saying earlier. Nobody asks him about the weather.

Studs Terkel Well then, I'll ask you a non-predictable question, you know, that there's an inconsistency here in the consistency of Quentin Crisp. That's a comment, I meant, not a question. And that's, because you yourself may have, when you were a small boy or a young man walking down the street and you're dressed, you know your hair has a certain tint to it, and there's rouge, and you're walking down with a certain walk, that may have well have been in your mind as you've left, but you encounter -- of course maybe what you encountered was always the same, I don't know. Don't you encounter something that may surprise you? Therefore you must behave spontaneously and not in a rehearsed manner to what happens.

Quentin Crisp You do meet surprises. You do meet people that actually egg you on to be like yourself, instead of saying, "Why, what gives you the idea that you have the right to flout the conventions that we accept?" But there are people who actually urge you on, so this was in the beginning a surprise, but my attitude is still the same, just as I would never defend myself, so even if praised wrongly I would still thank people.

Studs Terkel So that's part of the consistency. We're coming, Donald and Quentin, thinking about age, age and style, because you are now 72.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Studs Terkel And of course you still have that air of ease and being yourself always, not simply an older person. See, we use euphemisms, senior citizens, afraid to say old person. So we say senior citizen, you know. Or when someone says, "Oh, look at her, she's 80 years young," as though being old was something shameful. Whereas you do precisely the opposite. You accept what you are.

Donald Carroll But then, this is the essence of style.

Quentin Crisp One of the things that New Yorkers are mad about is what they call cosmetic surgery. And people who haven't said anything to you so far will come up and look at you and say, "Why don't you have your eyes done?" Which means why don't you have them smoothed out. But to me this is an absence of style, because by now being old is part of my style, and accepting myself as an old man is part of my style. So I wish, intend to look the age I am. And this seems to me to be a reasonable thing to remind yourself of your frailty.

Donald Carroll Yes. I mean, you

Studs Terkel Of your mortality.

Quentin Crisp Of your

Studs Terkel Of your humanness.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Donald Carroll Yes, it's far better if you're going gray to dye your hair all gray, than to get a Grecian formula to try to retard the process.

Studs Terkel You know, that I always tell this when, Bernard Shaw was a young drama critic. He saw both Duse and Bernhardt in the same role. It made -- and it was the role of a much younger person. They both were in their late years, and Bernhardt used all sorts of makeup, as much she could cosmetize as much as she wanted, she did. And there wasn't a wrinkle showing. Duse played it without makeup, and Shaw said, "I prefer the Italian. Her wrinkles are her credentials of humanity."

Quentin Crisp Beautiful.

Donald Carroll Exactly. Exactly. And Quentin has the wrinkles to prove as he meant.

Studs Terkel But this is what it's about.

Quentin Crisp It is indeed.

Studs Terkel To be what you are.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Studs Terkel And not

Donald Carroll But more so, you know, you've said earlier, and absolutely rightly, you accentuate what you are if you're getting old. You really get older. I mean, catch up on it.

Quentin Crisp In fact, one of the advantages of being old is that as it's toward the end of the round, you can overact appallingly.

Studs Terkel You can. That's right. You say, "Oh, well, that guy is old, or that guy is in his dotage, or that woman, and then as a result of which you can say many outrageous things that you wanted to say all your life, but never got around

Donald Carroll And it's put down to either age or senility or eccentricity. Whereas before it would be put down to a deliberate attempt to annoy you.

Studs Terkel I was thinking of the book. Oh, there's another aspect of it here. Oh, food, drink. George -- you quote Georgie Nathan is, "I drink to make"

Donald Carroll -- "To make other people interesting." It's always been one of my favorite quotes. Well actually, it's been one of my favorite excuses.

Studs Terkel You want to expand on that, Quentin or Donald?

Quentin Crisp Well of course, I drink very little, because to me -- nobody is boring. When you say someone is boring, it is yourself you criticize, because that means you have not made yourself into that receptacle into which they can pour anything. If you ask someone about whom people are guarded, they will never tell you the truth, and you have made them boring. If you make yourself into somebody to whom they can say anything.

Donald Carroll It's a much more sanguine view than I take. I think that people who do generate quite automatically without any involvement on your part.

Studs Terkel You know, I'm thinking about

Donald Carroll Boring on their own.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking some -- this is not unrelated, but since Quentin is here, Donald, has there been a change in British attitude when you were [small?], towards someone who was different, in this case homosexual. You described only as recently as 11 years ago when I visited you in your little flat in Chelsea and you were saying when you go out to buy a box of matches, you know that the guy running that store is talking to his wife and then they're nudging each other, "Look at him. Look at him." Is that so today?

Donald Carroll Actually, before he says this, can I interrupt and tell you that the day I met Quentin for the first time, I phoned him and said, "I'd like to talk to you, I understand you would be interested in writing a book, I'd be interested in publishing a book. Can you come to dinner?" And he said that would be very nice. And I said, "Shall I come and pick you up in my car?" And he said, "No, no, no, I -- you live in Putney, I live in Chelsea. (coughs) Excuse me. We, "So we're both on the 14 bus route, and I will catch the bus, the bus stop is only a stone's throw away, and stones will be thrown."

Quentin Crisp Yes. The attitude is different among the young, you see, the young people now, if they are told about my life or if they saw the television play, they say, "What was it?" And if I say, "Well, I dyed my hair," they say "And then?" because in Chelsea they have half their hand shaved and the other half tied up with bits of straw like the mane of a shire horse, so that any -- there's nothing you can do in Chelsea which would cause you to be thought outrageous, even if you wore morning dress, people would rush out and say, "Oh what a marvelous idea," if you said "I'm actually going to a wedding," they would say, "Oh! I'm sorry," because it's all a parade of eccentricity, which is not style.

Studs Terkel Well, suppose it's in a more middle-class, more stodgy area.

Quentin Crisp There

Studs Terkel Today.

Quentin Crisp Today there would still be perhaps some objection. You see, one must be careful not to be too glib about this subject. I only ever live in big cities, so I tend to say, "Oh, everything has got much easier. Eccentricity is now admissible," but I've never lived in a small town either in England or in America, so I don't know how difficult one's life would be.

Donald Carroll And also because of the pervasiveness of television. People are inclined to say

Studs Terkel -- That's

Donald Carroll Not only -- even if, it's not just a question of recognizing you, but they will assume to look that way, you must be famous. And so

Studs Terkel -- We come back to celebrity.

Donald Carroll This happens

Studs Terkel But also television for better or for worse. There's the horrendous aspect, the nature of commercials, of children becoming peddlers today, [unintelligible] of the banal violence. Now, I'm not going to [unintelligible], just the fact that person doesn't really die. And so life becomes nothing. All this is true. At the same time, TV has made people see other things, outrageous, made them conform, as you -- to buy certain things they don't need as others do. At the same time, eccentricity is in one way or another have been visible, too, so it may have altered attitudes toward someone different.

Donald Carroll Yes, but

Studs Terkel -- In a small town.

Quentin Crisp I'm sure it has. You see, at one time, for instance in England, all foreigners were thought to be eccentric. They wore funny clothes, they made funny noises instead of speaking English, they ate funny food. Now, people have to accept that in other parts of the world customs, and even morals are different. So yes, I think television opens the mind. I fully approve of television.

Studs Terkel Depending how it's used, of course. Coming back to Quent and Donald, this question I want to ask, this, [the who?] style and the person, and feeling. Feeling. I want to introduce this idea. When you were in that grocery store and you knew, and you were so accustomed to this, ever since you were small, you knew they were talking about you and laughing behind your back. What were your -- can you recall? This is difficult. Your feelings at that moment?

Quentin Crisp Oh, it often required a great effort to go out into the world and face the opprobrium, the disapproval. It depends really on a lot of things: how you feel above everything else. If you feel fine, you are willing to face this attitude in the world, and you're even willing to go along with it and accept jokes about yourself, provided they're not too hostile. But there are days when you don't really want to go out at all, and then everything else that happens is a burden, the disapproval and the laughter and the comment are a burden. I think it depends somewhat on how you feel, but your attitude toward it must always remain the same, because your attitude is part of your style, so therefore you never show that you disapprove of anything that is happening to you, because you'll have to admit that there is a sense in which you provoked it.

Donald Carroll Indeed, you have to remember that disapproval, particularly verbal disapproval, is a form of ratification that the style is working. You're having an effect.

Studs Terkel You know, so it comes back to Martin Luther King again and the civil rights movement, that is the active non-resistance or the passive resistance that it WAS provocative

Donald Carroll Oh, nothing, nothing

Studs Terkel Racism to the status quo.

Donald Carroll Nothing provokes people more than passivity and decency and generosity.

Studs Terkel And so in the case of Quentin Crisp, you were provocative indeed.

Quentin Crisp Yes, but you must not ever adopt some attitude or wear anything or do anything or say anything in the hope of annoying the neighbors, because to wish to annoy the neighbors is just as absurd as wishing to placate them.

Donald Carroll Well this is why Jesus drove the Romans into a frenzy, by turning the other cheek. There's nothing more maddening than somebody who turns the other cheek, particularly if it has rouge on it.

Studs Terkel We haven't come to something that's most important: work. A subject which I have been interested, work and style. A job and style. You've talked of sex earlier. You talked of attitudes. Now we come to the person and the means by which he lives, makes a living.

Quentin Crisp Yes. Of course we -- nearly everyone has had a job which it didn't feel suited him in any way. And the thing is not if possible not to accept it mainly because it's there. But some people's lives of course are so difficult they must accept the job which is available. They're just glad to have any job. But even then, nearly always, you do add your personality to your job.

Donald Carroll To do a job with style, you bring yourself to the job rather than being identified in terms of your job. You're probably the perfect example. People turn on Studs Terkel in the morning or they turn on the radio in the morning and listen to WFMT to hear you, not just to see what's on the radio.

Studs Terkel I'm lucky in the sense that this -- now we come to a key. This is not in the book, but it's in [the play?]. I'm lucky in that this is my hour. I decide, like this morning Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll, a conversation I've looked forward to, or I might read a short story by Chekhov or Ring Lardner, you know, or might interview a welfare mother, an old person, or a writer of a recent novel or a nonfiction

Donald Carroll -- You've just

Studs Terkel Or just play jazz or folk music or opera or something, but it's my hour. Whereas most people cannot make that decision in their work.

Donald Carroll Perhaps not that comprehensively, perhaps not that personally and arbitrarily, but they can bring their decisions, their personality, their tastes, their affections, their hatred to their work and perhaps not where thousands of people hear it or see it every day. But they can still do it.

Quentin Crisp They can do it. Of course, it can't always be done. You might work in a factory where nothing you could do could be other than doing the job. You would get it done. You can either do it badly or not badly. Then you can't add very much. But as soon as you are even at the level of working in an office, people do actually. When you're a secretary, people think yes, the others can type the letters, but they prefer one secretary, as she's more amenable, more jolly, more, more whatever it is that she has to offer, even more sexy. She can -- this is something she adds to the job, and the main thing is not to allow yourself to do your job less because it's boring. The way to make the job interesting is to do it more.

Studs Terkel This is again one of those academic matters I think, because as you say, someone on the assembly line would have a difficult time

Donald Carroll But

Studs Terkel The [unintelligible] work. Maybe -- I'm sorry.

Donald Carroll Sorry, no, the person on the assembly line has the unenviable job of dealing with things rather than people.

Studs Terkel So now

Donald Carroll And you can't really imprint your personality on things, however hard you try.

Studs Terkel Unless you were or are an old-timer, that is, someone who finishes the thing from beginning to end, the old-time craftsman, the old-time cabinet maker.

Donald Carroll Exactly.

Studs Terkel There again. There's his style.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Donald Carroll Exactly.

Studs Terkel In his work.

Quentin Crisp Yes. This is true. Therefore if your job is something which -- to which nothing can be added, then it's true. It's an unfortunately a dead area. And if then, if the day never comes when you can leave it, because you have a lot of children, because you have a wife, because you have a mother, you have this, that and the other which you have to support, then that does become an area into which you cannot add your style, and so you pour more of your style into the rest of your

Studs Terkel We come back to the beginning, don't we, about, as you said in the beginning, Quentin, and as the Italian engineer, architect Nervi said, that style is part of that person, not something that he superimposes.

Donald Carroll It's not a coat of many

Studs Terkel It's not a fad. It is not fashion.

Quentin Crisp Yes.

Studs Terkel Come back to that again, and the book is "Doing It with Style", by Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll, my two guests, and it's available, and perhaps just some sort of farewell comments, bases. I always say bases we haven't touched you feel like touching. Donald Carroll.

Donald Carroll I, I'm still just so happy to be here and to meet you. I don't think -- I don't think there are any bases we haven't touched.

Quentin Crisp No, I think if they are interested in the subject, then they will find all sorts of things in the book that we haven't mentioned. We are really speaking of the principle from which the book begins. But the book is a bubble meant to entertain.

Studs Terkel Primarily, but then it's just Quentin Crisp being here I find a life and Donald Carroll, and thank you both very much. It's "Doing It with Style", Franklin and Watts [sic - Franklin Watts] the publishers, Crisp and Carroll. Crisp and Carroll, I like the sound of that,

Donald Carroll What Quentin calls the Laurel and Hardy of the cheese

Studs Terkel And perhaps just a wish that someday you've done -- it began in pubs I know, this is another subject, but you did a one-man theater, and theater, by the way, is what Quentin Crisp is about. And you, after intermission there are questions, and you got rave reviews and doing it in New York, perhaps one of the local theaters and some good ones here will pick it up and do a one-man show with Quentin Crisp,

Quentin Crisp I would like that.

Donald Carroll Chicago should be so lucky.

Studs Terkel I agree. Thank you both very much indeed.

Donald Carroll Thank you.