Salvador Dali and Barry Humphries

STORIES THAT REALLY DID HAPPEN, RE-CALLED BY HARRY HARPER

SALVADOR DALI AND BARRY HUMPHRIES

Gotham Book Mart, 41 West 47th Street, New York, November 1963

Early one afternoon, the 29-year-old Barry Humphries happens to be standing on top of one of the ladders in the rare book room at the Gotham Book Mart, New York, when Salvador Dali enters, ready for a signing session of his latest book, The Diary Of A Genius.

With him is his avaricious 69-year-old wife Gala, who is always on the lookout for young men.

Humphries shuttles down and ‘somewhat obsequiously’ introduces himself to the artist who has long been one of his idols. Dali tells Humphries of his great wish to visit Australia and examine the cave paintings of the Aboriginals. Then he breaks into what Humphries describes as ‘a kind of gibberish, which was his fanciful version of Aboriginal speech’.

The manager of the bookshop is anxious to start the signing session — but Gala Dali has other plans.

‘She began to stroke my none-too-lustrous hair and proposed that we all go back to the St Regis Hotel immediately,’ recalls Humphries.

He is very excited, ‘yet not a little apprehensive’, for Gala’s reputation as a sexual predator precedes her. To dispel her terror of growing old, she is known to have a constant succession of young lovers. Nevertheless, Humphries travels willingly with the Dalis to the St Regis Hotel, where the staff are perfectly used to Salvador walking his pet ocelot on a leash through the hall. Throughout the journey, Dali keeps up an unending stream of Aboriginal banter.

In the suite, Gala produces a large pair of scissors. She clasps the back of Humphries’ head firmly in her left hand and starts hacking away at his hair. Snip! Snip!

Happily, Humphries manages to wriggle out of her clutches without the loss of too much hair. Then Salvador and Gala descend into a furious and intimate argument, Salvador gesticulating wildly and screaming curses at Gala, and Gala returning the abuse in French.

Feeling somewhat de trop, Barry Humphries slips away unnoticed, back to the real world.

by Harry Harper

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