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In my kick-off column of January 18, I noted that I was formerly associated with A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, founders of the original Salvador Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, near Cleveland. What a surreal time that was! I mean, plopped in the middle of an industrial park was the world’s greatest collection of art by the world’s most controversial and brilliant painter.
Truth really is stranger than fiction!
The Morses, who owned a plastics company in Beachwood, had to wrangle a special zoning permit in order to locate their massive collection (with all the foot and car traffic it would predictably cause) in an area zoned light industrial. A lot of hoops were jumped through, and political levers pulled (maybe some watches melted?) in order to get the proper ordinance to allow this staid Cleveland suburb to say “Hello, Dali!”
That’s the way the cookie crumbles, er… melts.
In preparation for the opening of the museum on March 7, 1971, Salvador Dali himself came to town for the historic occasion. Since Dali’s mustache went limp at the thought of traveling by air, the Morses arranged a limousine to fetch him from the St. Regis Hotel – where he and Gala stayed during the winters – and motor him up to the Buckeye State.
I recall a charming little anecdote Ren and Eleanor told me about that long drive with their most unlikely celebrity passenger. At one point Dali needed to stop to “make divine pee-pee,” as he liked to described nature’s call. Nothing was ever “normal” with Dali, not even having to use the bathroom!
During their stop, they were a little hungry, so Dali chose to purchase a cookie to bring with him in the limo. However, through some misunderstanding or another, Dali’s selected cookie was suddenly gone. Perhaps there was only one left, I don’t recall, but what he had eyeballed seemed to have vanished from the pastry display case at the eatery at which they made their stop.
“Somebody food my cookie!” Dali exclaimed, in his inadvertently humorous English, and for whom replacing the word “ate” with “food” was perfectly natural.
Look honey, it’s Salvador Dali!
The Morses had a vice-president of their plastic injection molding company, who I”ll simply refer to here as Ed. He told me of a true story that remains one of my favorite Dalinian anecdotes.
A few days before the inauguration of the Ohio Dali Museum, the Morses and Ed, together with his wife and Dali were dining at a restaurant not far from the site of the museum. It was called The Pewter Mug, and I”m quite certain it’s long since gone out of business.
I don’t recall if Gala was present. In fact, although I may be mistaken, I don’t believe Gala even made the trip to Cleveland; she left that bit of business solely to her publicity-loving husband. Who knows, meanwhile, what she was up to, back in the Big Apple, alone with her legendary libido and a stately 16th floor suite at the St. Regis!
Anyway, they’re at dinner at the restaurant, when Ed overhears a woman, dining at a nearby table with her husband, say, “Look, honey, there’s Salvador Dali. He’s eating dinner at that table behind you!”
‘sure, dear,” the patronizing husband replies. “Right – Salvador Dali is here, behind me in this very restaurant, tonight, eating dinner. Right.”
Of course, the story’s conclusion is pretty easy to figure out: the woman insisted her husband turn and look, and when he did, sure enough, there was Salvador Dali! Not the kind of thing you see in a restaurant every day, now is it? The man nearly choked on his Beef Wellington! (Maybe he should have ordered sea urchin – a Dali favorite!)
You’ve come a long way Salvador Dali!
The Dali Museum inauguration in Ohio made headlines around the nation and the world. The Morses finally decided to share a portion of their incomparable collection with the public. It had for years been sequestered in their home on Chagrin Boulevard in Beachwood, until they acquired paintings far too massive for their house (which itself was rather modest, just like the blue Checker taxi they drove as their sole family car!).
Huge masterworks like “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus’ and “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” required the raising of the roof at their company headquarters, in order to display them in a special wing devoted to these and many other smaller paintings, drawings, watercolors and graphics.
I lived among these great works during my tenure as publicity director. I lectured almost daily in what was called the Salon of the Masterworks, helping to explain to visitors some of the meaning and symbolism in “Columbus” and “Toreador,” as well as the slightly smaller “Ecumenical Council.”