Did you know that Salvador Dalí would avoid paying tabs at restaurants by drawing on his check. His (often correct) assumption was that nobody would want to cash such valuable artwork.
Salvador Dalí’s politics played a significant role in his emergence as an artist. In his youth, he embraced both anarchism and Communism, though his writings tell anecdotes of making radical political statements more to shock listeners than from any deep conviction. This was in keeping with Dalí’s allegiance to the Dada movement.
As he grew older his political allegiances changed, especially as the Surrealist movement went through transformations under the leadership of the Trotskyist writer André Breton, who is said to have called Dalí in for questioning on his politics. In his 1970 book Dalí by Dalí, Dalí declared himself to be both an anarchist and monarchist.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Dalí fled from the fighting and refused to align himself with any group. He did the same during World War II (1939–1945), for which he was heavily criticized; George Orwell accused him of “scuttling off like a rat as soon as France is in danger” after Dalí had prospered in France during the pre-war years. “When the European War approaches he has one preoccupation only: how to find a place which has good cookery and from which he can make a quick bolt if danger comes too near”, Orwell observed. In a notable 1944 review of Dalí’s autobiography, Orwell wrote, “One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dalí is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being”.
After his return to Catalonia post World War II, Dalí moved closer to the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco. Some of Dalí’s statements were supportive, congratulating Franco for his actions aimed “at clearing Spain of destructive forces”. Dalí, having returned to the Catholic faith and becoming increasingly religious as time went on, may have been referring to the Republican atrocities during the Spanish Civil War. Dalí sent telegrams to Franco, praising him for signing death warrants for prisoners. He even met Franco personally, and painted a portrait of Franco’s granddaughter.
He also once sent a telegram praising the Conducător, Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, for his adoption of a scepter as part of his regalia. The Romanian daily newspaper Scînteia published it, without suspecting its mocking aspect. One of Dalí’s few possible bits of open disobedience was his continued praise of Federico García Lorca even in the years when Lorca’s works were banned.
Dalí, a colorful and imposing presence with his ever–present long cape, walking stick, haughty expression, and upturned waxed moustache, was famous for having said that “every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí”. The entertainer Cher and her husband Sonny Bono, when young, came to a party at Dalí’s expensive residence in New York’s Plaza Hotel and were startled when Cher sat down on an oddly shaped sexual vibrator left in an easy chair. In the 1960s, he gave the actress Mia Farrow a dead mouse in a bottle, hand-painted, which her mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, demanded be removed from her house.
In his later years, while still remaining a Roman Catholic, Dalí also claimed to be an agnostic.
When signing autographs for fans, Dalí would always keep their pens. Salvador Dalí frequently traveled with his pet ocelot Babou, even bringing it aboard the luxury ocean liner SS France. He was also known to avoid paying tabs at restaurants by drawing on the checks he wrote. His theory was the restaurant would never want to cash such a valuable piece of art, and he was usually correct.
Besides visual puns, Dalí shared in the surrealist delight in verbal puns, obscure allusions, and word games. He often spoke in a bizarre combination of French, Spanish, Catalan, and English which was sometimes amusing as well as arcane. His copious writings freely mixed words from different languages with terms entirely of his own devising.
When interviewed by Mike Wallace on his 60 Minutes television show, Dalí kept referring to himself in the third person, and told the startled Wallace matter-of-factly that he did not believe in his death. During another television appearance, on The Tonight Show, Dalí carried with him a leather rhinoceros and refused to sit upon anything else. In a late 1950s appearance on the panel show What’s My Line?, he was a mystery guest, and signed the chalkboard with thick white paint.