In the summer of 1936 Harpo Marx, the beaming, curly-headed buffoon and the most anarchic of the Marx brothers, made a visit to Europe. One of his admirers was the Surrealist painter Salvador DalÍ, who considered the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers to be the “summit of the evolution of comic cinema”.
DalÍ travelled to Paris specially to meet Harpo at a party. The meeting was a success and the two men, both wildly flamboyant showmen, remained in touch. A few months later, DalÍ sent Harpo a handmade Christmas present. It was a harp, decorated with gilded ornamentation, but with barbed wire for strings and teaspoons and forks for tuning knobs, all wrapped in Cellophane.
Harpo was delighted had a photograph taken of himself seemingly playing it, with bandages on his fingers as if he had injured himself while plucking the strings. This was sent to DalÍ with an invitation to visit him if he were ever in California.
Within a month DalÍ was in Hollywood, where he announced to reporters that he intended to make a portrait of Harpo. For years DalÍ had been entranced by Harpo’s hyperactive character on film and his stunts, such as bringing a steaming hot cup of coffee out of his trouser pocket or producing a candle lit at both ends from inside his coat. To DalÍ, Harpo’s surrealist humour perfectly matched his own carefully cultivated image as the living embodiment of Surrealism.
On DalÍ’s arrival Harpo rose to the challenge of shocking the artist. Their meeting took place in the garden of Harpo’s Los Angeles home. DalÍ later wrote: “He was naked, crowned with roses, and in the centre of a veritable forest of harps (he was surrounded by at least 500 harps). He was caressing, like a new Leda, a dazzling white swan, and feeding it a statue of the Venus de Milo made of cheese, which he grated against the strings of the nearest harp.” (...more>>)
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