Salvador Dalí & the Marx Brothers’ 1930s Film Script Gets Released as a Graphic Novel

His­to­ry remem­bers Sal­vador Dalí as one of the most indi­vid­u­al­is­tic artists ever to live, but he also had a knack for col­lab­o­ra­tion: with Luis BuñuelAlfred Hitch­cock, Walt Dis­ney, even, in a sense, with Lewis Car­roll and William Shake­speare. But would you believe the list also includes one of the Marx Broth­ers? Though the film on which they col­lab­o­rat­ed in the 1930s nev­er entered pro­duc­tion, its sto­ry has been told by Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad, a hybrid of illus­trat­ed text and graph­ic nov­el pub­lished just this month, itself a col­lab­o­ra­tion between pop-cul­ture schol­ar Josh Frank, artist Manuela Perte­ga, and come­di­an Tim Hei­deck­er.

When Dalí went to Hol­ly­wood, he wrote the fol­low­ing to fel­low Sur­re­al­ist André Bre­ton: “I’ve made con­tact with the three Amer­i­can sur­re­al­ists: Har­po Marx, Dis­ney and Cecil B. DeMille.” He seems to have been espe­cial­ly tak­en with Marx.

“They paint­ed each oth­er, and Dalí sent his new friend a full-size harp strung with barbed wire,” writes NPR’s Etel­ka Lehoczky. “So over­come was Dalí with Har­po’s genius that he wrote a treat­ment, and lat­er an abbre­vi­at­ed screen­play, for a Marx Broth­ers movie to be called Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad.” (It also had at least one alter­nate title, The Sur­re­al­ist Woman.)

The project made it as far as a meet­ing with MGM head Louis B. May­er, to whom Frank describes Dalí and Marx as pitch­ing such scenes as “Har­po opens an umbrel­la and a chick­en explodes on all the onlook­ers. He … puts each piece [of chick­en] care­ful­ly on a sad­dle that he uses as a plate, a sad­dle not for a horse, but for a giraffe!” Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the busi­ness-mind­ed May­er did­n’t go for it, but Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad has had a long after­life as one of the most intrigu­ing films nev­er made. In the ear­ly 1990s, the New York the­ater col­lec­tive Ele­va­tor Repair Ser­vice put on a pro­duc­tion based on the sparse mate­ri­als then known, just a few years before the entire screen­play turned up among Dalí’s per­son­al papers.

“Har­po will be Jim­my, a young Span­ish aris­to­crat who lives in the U.S. as a con­se­quence of polit­i­cal cir­cum­stances in his coun­try,” Dalí wrote. Jim­my was to encounter a “beau­ti­ful sur­re­al­ist woman, whose face is nev­er seen by the audi­ence” in a sto­ry dra­ma­tiz­ing “the con­tin­u­ous strug­gle between the imag­i­na­tive life as depict­ed in the old myths and the prac­ti­cal and ratio­nal life of con­tem­po­rary soci­ety.” Dalí prob­a­bly used the term “sto­ry” loose­ly: “Even jazzed up with jokes by Tim Hei­deck­er (a mod­ern Marx Broth­er if there ever was one), Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad — the movie, not the book — is a baf­fling mess,” writes Lehoczky. “Nei­ther Dalí nor Har­po seems to have real­ized that their approach­es to humor were vast­ly dif­fer­ent.”

The Marx Broth­ers, as every one of their fans knows, were “acute­ly con­scious of, and respon­sive to, estab­lished struc­tures: They sub­vert­ed the social order using its own rules.” Dalí, in film and every oth­er medi­um in which he tried his hand (and mus­tache) besides, usu­al­ly head­ed off “in a direc­tion orthog­o­nal to accept­ed real­i­ty.” To what extent Dalí and Marx were aware of that clash — and to what extent they delib­er­ate­ly empha­sized it — dur­ing their work on Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad remains a mys­tery, but you can read more about that work, and the work Frank, Perte­ga, and Hei­deck­er put in to bring it to graph­ic fruition more than eighty years lat­er, at NPR, Indiewire, and Hyper­al­ler­gic. The more you learn, the more you’ll won­der how even Dalí and Marx could real­ly imag­ine their project pro­duced by a stu­dio in the Gold­en Age of Hol­ly­wood. But as Tate Mod­ern cura­tor Matthew Gale plau­si­bly the­o­rizes, actu­al­ly mak­ing the film may have been beside the point.

Pick up a copy of Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad here.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Two Vin­tage Films by Sal­vador Dalí and Luis Buñuel: Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or

Alfred Hitch­cock Recalls Work­ing with Sal­vador Dali on Spell­bound

Sal­vador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Short Ani­mat­ed Film, Des­ti­no, Set to the Music of Pink Floyd

The 14-Hour Epic Film, Dune, That Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, Pink Floyd, Sal­vador Dalí, Moe­bius, Orson Welles & Mick Jag­ger Nev­er Made

The 55 Strangest, Great­est Films Nev­er Made (Cho­sen by John Green)

Grou­cho Marx and T.S. Eliot Become Unex­pect­ed Pen Pals, Exchang­ing Por­traits & Com­pli­ments (1961)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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