Dali on TV
Written by: Creative Director, Brandon Long
In the 1950s, a popular television show, “What’s My Line?” revolved around a simple premise. Guests would appear before a panel of celebrities that would ask a series of yes and no questions to try to determine the guests’ occupation. The show featured all kinds of different careers of the everyday sort like librarians, inventors, jail wardens, etc. as well as special celebrity guests such as actors and athletes. When celebrity guests would appear, the panel of judges would often have to be blindfolded and the guests would disguise their voices to make the guessing all the more difficult. I watched a few episodes on YouTube and was fascinated to see things like a pre-famous Colonel Sanders in his trademark “southern attire” go unrecognized or to hear the show’s host ask Walt Disney what he thought about television – something relatively new at the time.
Perhaps most interesting was the January 27, 1957 episode in which Salvador Dali appeared on the show. Though there are several clips of him appearing on late night television, (like the time he appeared on the Dick Cavett show in 1970 and threw an anteater on the guests), it is always incredible to see an artist as unusual and iconic as Dali moving about in film format. I suppose it’s because most artists that are household names passed away even before the invention of still photography, it seems such a treat to see that Dali actually existed in all his eccentricity outside of his Surrealist masterpieces. He is so wrapped in legend and surrounded in mystery that seeing him on film is every bit as unnerving as seeing a video of George Washington.
On this particular episode, the panel of judges were blindfolded – due to the celebrity of Dali and his iconic appearance (particularly that mustache). As the panel begins to ask their questions, the artist responds with a nod and a “Yes” to almost every question that comes his way.
(Here’s the youtube link: https://youtu.be/iXT2E9Ccc8A )
The panel asks, “Are you associated with the arts?” Dali responds, “Yes.” Other questions like, “Have you been seen on TV? Are you a performer? Have you made front-page news? Are you accustomed to appearing before audiences?” All yes responses from Dali. One panelist asks if he would be considered “a leading man?” and Dali nods and gives a, “Yes” to the laughter and delight of the audience. The host has to wrangle the artist’s comments back a bit to clarify that he is probably not a “leading man” in the sense that the panelists are referring to.
Further questioning leads the panel to ask, “Are you considered a writer?” Another nod and a, “yes.” Dali has written a number of books on art as well as his own inner workings, the most well-known of which is Diary of a Genius. Another panelist asks if the artist writes humorously, to which Dali and the host have a brief conference deciding that the answer is a yes and no depending on the context. A female panelist asks if he, “does drawings, like comic strips?” to which the audience erupts in laughter. The panelists begin to realize that there must be something unusual about the guest based on the responses from the audience. “You are a human being, aren’t you?” asks one of the male panelists. Further questioning reveals that Dali has published a book through Random House, which was founded by one of the panelists.
Eventually the panelists have a conference amongst themselves and arrive at a final question, “Do you have a well-known mustache, almost like a caricature?” They ultimately guess the artist’s identity as none other than Salvador Dali.
Despite being an interesting look back at Salvador Dali in person, I took away quite a bit from this little clip about the breadth that we must have as artists. In order to be successful (though not necessarily at Dali’s level) artists must be performers, news-makers, accustomed to appearing before audiences, writers, and so much more. While some thought that Dali was being aloof or simply trolling the panelists, he was being factual. One panelist even asks, “Is there nothing this man doesn’t do?” It was baffling to the judges that one man was capable of so much, but artists quite often are adept at a number of things. We think and process the world in ways that many others do not, and the skills necessary to translate these ideas to reach a general audience are quite valuable.