Salvador Dalí Gets Surreal with 1950s America: Watch His Appearances on What’s My Line? (1952) and The Mike Wallace Interview (1958)

When was the last time you saw a Sur­re­al­ist (or even just a sur­re­al­ist) painter appear on nation­al tele­vi­sion? If such a fig­ure did appear on nation­al tele­vi­sion today, for that mat­ter, who would know? Per­haps sur­re­al­ist paint­ing does not, in our time, make the impact it once did, but nor does nation­al tele­vi­sion. So imag­ine what a spec­ta­cle it must have been in 1950s Amer­i­ca, cra­dle of the “mass media” as we once knew them, when Sal­vador Dalí turned up on a major U.S. tele­vi­sion net­work. Such a fab­u­lous­ly incon­gru­ous broad­cast­ing event hap­pened more than once, and in these clips we see that, among the “big three,” CBS was espe­cial­ly recep­tive to his impul­sive, oth­er­world­ly artis­tic pres­ence.

On the quiz show What’s My Line?, one of CBS’ most pop­u­lar offer­ings through­out the 50s, con­tes­tants aimed to guess the occu­pa­tion of a guest. They did so wear­ing blind­folds, with­out which they’d have no trou­ble pin­ning down the job of an instan­ta­neous­ly rec­og­niz­able celebri­ty like Dalí — or would they? To the pan­el’s yes-or-no ques­tions, the only kind per­mit­ted by the rules, Dalí near­ly always responds flat­ly in the affir­ma­tive.

Is he asso­ci­at­ed with the arts? “Yes.” Would he ever have been seen on tele­vi­sion? “Yes.” Would he be con­sid­ered a lead­ing man? “Yes.” At this host John Charles Daly steps in to clar­i­fy that, in the con­text of the ques­tion, Dalí would not, in fact, be con­sid­ered a lead­ing man. One con­tes­tant offers an alter­na­tive: “He’s a mis­lead­ing man!” Few titles have cap­tured the essence of Dalí so neat­ly.

The artist, show­man, and human con­scious-alter­ing sub­stance lat­er appeared on The Mike Wal­lace Inter­view. Host­ed by the for­mi­da­ble CBS news­man well before he became one of the faces of 60 Min­utes, the show fea­tured a range of guests from Aldous Hux­ley and Frank Lloyd Wright to Eleanor Roo­sevelt and Ayn Rand. In this broad­cast, Wal­lace and Dalí dis­cuss “every­thing from sur­re­al­ism to nuclear physics to chasti­ty to what artists in gen­er­al con­tribute to the world,” as Brain Pick­ings’ Maria Popo­va describes it. A curi­ous if occa­sion­al­ly bemused Wal­lace, writes The Wall­break­ers’ Matt Weck­el, “asks Dalí such gems as ‘What is philo­soph­i­cal about dri­ving a car full of cau­li­flow­ers?’ and ‘Why did you lec­ture with your head enclosed in a div­ing hel­met?’ ” But they also seri­ous­ly dis­cuss “the fear of death, and their own mor­tal­i­ty,” top­ics to which Amer­i­can air­waves have hard­ly grown more accom­mo­dat­ing over the past six­ty years.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sal­vador Dalí Gets Sur­re­al with Mike Wal­lace (1958)

Sal­vador Dalí Strolls onto The Dick Cavett Show with an Anteater, Then Talks About Dreams & Sur­re­al­ism, the Gold­en Ratio & More (1970)

A Soft Self-Por­trait of Sal­vador Dali, Nar­rat­ed by the Great Orson Welles

Q: Sal­vador Dalí, Are You a Crack­pot? A: No, I’m Just Almost Crazy (1969)

Sal­vador Dalí Explains Why He Was a “Bad Painter” and Con­tributed “Noth­ing” to Art (1986)

Sal­vador Dalí Goes Com­mer­cial: Three Strange Tele­vi­sion Ads

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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