It is very rarely that an actor in a great performance has a profound impact on your life, but British actor John Hurt did just that. When I saw his performance as Quentin Crisp in “The Naked Civil Servant”, I made up my mind to move to England immediately. And I did.
Here, I thought was culture that would be open to someone like me, who at the time was living off and on as a transvestite and trying to make a career as both an Out Gay actor and a trans actress and an author of gay plays. Crisp had written the ground-breaking autobiography of his life as an art school model and so he was a Naked Civil Servant. The British TELEVISION film of his life was shown here on Channel 13, and it detailed Crisp’s tale of living in drag and walking the streets of London in the ’30’s and 40’s in flaming red hair and lipstick. He was constantly being beaten up and arrested. And John Hurt portrayed these qualities to a fare-thee-well.In the latter part of the film, he acquiesced to aging by dying his hair from red to blue. And he called himself, in one of the great exit lines in Film History, “I am one of the stately homos of England.”
John Hurt went on to one of the great British careers in acting. Truly versatile, he played EVERYTHING for the treacherous Richie Rich in “A Man of All Seasons” to the dumb, hapless Welsh man who is fingered by the mass murder Christie in “Ten Rillington Place” as is executed for crimes he didn’t commit.
I spent one unforgettable night in Quentin Crisp’s bed-sitting room(one room flat with the bathroom on the hall) and I asked him how I could become successful and he said “To be great to be truly great, one must transcend everything, even your work. How much better to be Wilde than to be ‘Lady Windemere’s Fan’? And how much better to be Coward, than to be one of his plays?” Words to live by.
Living abroad in England as I did for three and a half years, I count as one of the greatest adventures of my life. And if it wasn’t for John Hurt’s iconic performance as Quentin Crisp, I never would have known what it was like to live and struggle and try to survive in a foreign country, even though we have a shared language.
I finally got to actually meet John Hurt when he uninvitedly crashed a rather wild birthday party for me that was being thrown by Gay Sweatshop, the great radical homosexual theater group.
There was some man, clearly older than most of my contemporaries who were there, and doing the strangest things. Not the least of which was lurching about with his mouth wide open, his chin on his chest and his tongue lolling out of this mouth. and moaning instead of talking.
“Who IS that?” I asked my host. And he retorted, “Oh, don’t mind him. That’s John Hurt. He’s in character for the latest film he’s making.” And I just said, “Oh.” “It’s the Elephant Man,” my friend replied.
He was nominated for an Oscar for it, but he didn’t win.
He never won an Oscar. R.I.P. John Hurt