Salvador Dali and Celebrity: He was a ‘Star’s Star!’


By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


My friend, Elliott King, Ph.D., a Dali expert, professor, author, and exhibition curator, summed it up nicely: “Dali was sort of a star’s star.”


So true. Which is why this post focuses on Dali and celebrity – his, and those celebs with whom he had some connection. By no means is this an exhaustive survey or in-depth study of the topic at hand.


I’ve simply touched upon well-known personalities who played some role in the not so secret life of Salvador Dali. The take-away is a realization of just how wide the net was cast when it came to this star’s star.


Dali’s meetings with Coco Chanel inspired him to venture into the world of clothing design. Now a forthcoming new biography of Chanel – Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life – reportedly suggests that Dali and Chanel had an affair.


Dali and Chanel

Dali and Chanel


Hmmm. What I know for sure is that the photo here of Salvador and Coco having a cigarette together is really quite surprising, considering Dali was not a smoker at all (photo notwithstanding) and was in fact a hypochondriac.


Dali lighting up??

Dali lighting up??


Dali collaborated with Christian Dior to design costumes for plays, and of course with Alfred Hitchcock in designing the famous dream sequence for Spellbound.


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Speaking of cinema, Dali became good friends with Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Studio, and painted portraits of Warner and his wife Ann.


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Dali and Gala’s war time residence at Del Monte Lodge in Pebble Beach, Calif., allowed Dali easy opportunity to rub shoulders with the movie crowd. Dali’s Surrealist Night in an Enchanted Forest surrealist party at the Del Monte Lodge in 1941 drew the likes of Jackie Coogan, Bob Hope, and Ginger Rogers, among others.



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Marie-Helene de Rothschild held her famous Surrealist Ball of Dec. 2, 1972, and the requirement that everyone attending had to come with a surrealist head logically appealed to Dali.


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That Rothschild was a member of the super-wealthy Rothschild banking family and Parisian high-society appealed to him, too!


Also along the cinema trail were the likes of Walt Disney, with whom Dali collaborated on the cinema short, Destino. Harpo Marx and Salvador Dali became fast friends, and while a film Dali wrote for the Marx Brothers never saw the light of day, it’s reported that a novel is due out in November that’s an adaptation of Dali’s Giraffes on Horseback Salad script.


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Oh! Back momentarily to fashion to acknowledge the collaboration between Dali and designer Elsa Schiaparelli – so impressive that it warranted a special exhibition some months back at the St. Pete Dali Museum.


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One of Dali’s idols was the early cinematic genius, Charlie Chaplain. Dali once explained that he, Dali, fancied himself as someone who wanted to be both a great painter and “one cloon (clown), like Charlie Chaplain.”


Chaplain was Dali's hero.

Chaplain was Dali’s hero.


One of the all-time movie and stage greats, Sir Laurence Olivier, had a key role in Dali’s celebrity when he was the subject of a famous portrait by Dali of Olivier in the role of Richard III.


Salvador Dali painting Laurence Olivier, 1955


Speaking of portraits, Dali painted an interesting one of cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein, shown chained to a steep cliff by a string of pearls. Dali painted a portrait of her prince husband, too. Come to think of it, Dali did a fine pencil portrait of Harpo – I almost forgot.


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In the quasi-portrait category land two other well-known cinema luminaries – the irrepressible Mae West, whose features inspired Dali’s Portrait of Mae West, Which Can Be Used as an Apartment, and the iconic Mae West lips sofa. Meanwhile, little Shirley Temple, whose collage head appears in Dali’s 1939 painting showing her with the body of a sphinx-like lion. On top of that cute little head sits a purple bat.


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The list of celebs who Dali knew, and in some cases collaborated with, seems endless: Jackie Gleason (Dali designed his Lonesome Echo LP cover); Raquel Welsh (Dali did a splatter-dash “portrait” of her as a promotional stunt to promote the feature film, Fantastic Voyage, for which Dali also painted a splendid canvas); Marilyn Monroe (the two never met, so far as I know, but Dali created a wild piece titled Marilyn Monroe, employing the 3-D effects of Rolex and Fresnel lenses); Alice Cooper (he was the subject of one of Dali’s holograms).


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Then there was Andy Warhol, and folks he helped Dali meet, such as Jagger and Jones of The Rolling Stones. David Bowie was in the mix, too. And we cannot leave out Mia Farrow…Sigmund Freud…French singer/artist/actor/director/writer Serge Gainsbourg…Yul Brenner…Bobbie Kennedy…The Duke and Duchess of Windsor…Merv Griffin…Ed Sullivan…Dick Cavett…Whitey Ford…John Lennon. A rather diverse group!


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Dali detested the idea of not being noticed. Fortunately, he never had to worry about that.


Dali and B.B.

Dali and B.B.


For even if he wasn’t partying with Bridgett Bardot, or seen dining with Gina Lollobrigida, he would forever be noticed for being Salvador Dali. A star’s star.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)

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