top of page

The Story of Doing Business with Dali and his love of the Marilyn Mao composite

Dali Anecdotes - Marilyn Mao


I’ll start with Dali’s profound joy and satisfaction with himself due to his collaboration with Hallsman on the Marilyn Mao composite Photo. Virtually everything was Marrrrrrrrrrrilllllllynnnnnnnnnn, Maaaaaooooooo with the maestro. He carried pictures of his obsession and spoke of it any chance he could. Here is a short description and writeup  on the piece

The 20th century brought seemingly endless changes to the photographic medium, many of which had dramatic effects on the technical and stylistic results. Here two artists collaborate to create a cross between Chairman Mao Zedong (1893–1976), the leader of Communist China and symbol of revolution, with Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962), the American movie star and sex symbol. The idea for such a portrait was hatched by the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali and adroitly executed by Halsman. The clash of Eastern and Western cultural icons is both humorous and unsettling. Dali used Halsman's image when he was invited to create cover art for Vogue magazine in 1971.


Mao/Marilyn photo montage first appeared on the Christmas 1971 cover of the French edition of Vogue.

Dali spoke endlessly how his image had combined the two cultures of China and America.  As much as the image and the thought of it celebrated Dali’s genius to himself, it alone was not enough. To further exploit his image and genius, Dali had the images of both Mao and Marilyn, (not the composite, but the separate images which were used for the composite, printed on actual dried beans. The bean was likely a cannoli, as they were white or off-white  and fairly large. The images were printed in a burnt sienna color and appeared on either side of the bean. Dali said that the consumption of said beans would start the cultural revolution growing inside you. I have likely mentioned elsewhere that Andy Warhol was a frequent visitor to the Dali camp at the St Regis. He would always bring his pride and joy Polaroid SX-70 (newly released, or he may even have had a pre production). Snapping photos and feeling each one was an even greater masterpiece. (I actually had a portrait taken by Warhol and signed, but later threw it away as a sign of solidarity to Dali)(Warhol also at one time tried to persuade me to leave working for Dali and come for work for him over at the Factory, but not only was I dedicated to Dali (thinking he was THE genius of current and maybe all art) but I was terrified of Warhol’s troop of transgenders, and the random stories of huge orgies with them at the Factory) One evening, After Warhol heard Dali’s raving about the Marilyn Mao one too many times, Andy shows up at the St Regis with a wrapped present for Dali. By the size and shape I thought it to be a painting of some sort and after a quick meeting in the King Cole Bar, we went to one of Dali’s private rooms. There were only a few in attendance beyond Dali, Captain Moore, Warhol, a guest of Warhol’s and myself, when Dali opened the gift, which turned out to be one of Warhol’s Marilyn silkscreens, Dali immediately put the painting on the floor, unzipped his pants, and started peeing on it. While this first brought a look of shock on Warhol’s guest and the Captain, at first inquisitive look from Warhol actually turned to joy as the pissing continued)(Warhol would take huge advantage of the happening years later when he introduced his Piss Paintings. (Warhol himself and several guests and celebrities pissed on canvases and metal plates, oxidizing the plates which were later sold as abstract art).(remember Warhol’s famous saying, Art is whatever you can get away with” . Dali explained Warhol’s creation did not come close to the genius of his own Marilyn, and shortly after, left the room, inviting Warhol and his friend to dinner.

Now for the story of how Dali turned his Marilyn Mao into more cash in a private business deal. Entrepreneurs of all types were constantly trying to make millions in a project with Dali, most of these dealings were left for the Captain to hammer out the details and make a proposal to Dali. But late one Sunday evening, after court, after dinner, and after all other hangers on had left, one business man stayed behind to convince Dali that they should do a project together. To my surprise Dali did not defer, but engaged this man and almost immediately told him it is possible, but it would cost $100,000. I bring this story up now because Dali had already given this man a complete encyclopedia of background on the genius behind the Marilyn-Mao picture. Assured the businessman was on board and at least feigned that he liked the concept of Marilyn Mao, Dali said the project would use this image as a frontispiece. Dali now tells me to go out, and find a fine China Tea cup. (these are the types of Dali requests that would make me crazy, its around 9:30PM, in Manhattan, raining and cold in January, I certainly don’t know where china shops are , let alone ones that would be open very late on a Sunday night. But to make sure I understand, and get the right thing, Dali does a sketch in a book I have brought for him to sign (see picture). SO…out into the rain I go, after making my way up and down 5th Ave, and heading towards the Plaza, I realized it is impossible to find a shop open for the cup Dali wants…….now I have to make a decision, come back with nothing and really face the wrath of Dali, for not only failing, but to take the blame for loosing the $100,000 Shit, it was impossible….but just then I had an epiphany,  while there may be no China shops open, there just may be some Chinese restaurants open. So I find a phone booth with a phone book and look up a few restaurants (No Internet…this is the 1970's) After many, many tries, I am out of change and can’t call anymore and start walking to the nearest restaurants, one was open, but did not have the right kind of cup, a few more closed and finally, I asked to see a tea cup at the last possible choice, and by some miracle it would fit the needs of Dali. I tried to explain my situation and begged if I could buy a cup, but they barely knew English, and in the end offered me a cup to leave, as they thought I was crazy. I got back to the King Cole Bar where there were still other customers, somewhat thinned out, but enough to really make a stir. Dali convinced the man he had a fantastic project to do with him, which was not only unique, would hold the image of Marilyn Mao, was even made of China making the connection to Mao all the more important. The man was convinced it would work, brought out a checkbook and made a check to Salvador Dali for the sum of $100,000 which Dali folded in half and put in the breast pocket of his suit. Dali now took the cup from me and showed the gentleman where the picture of Marilyn Mao would be printed on the front of the cup (Very much like the Angelus set Dali collected in his travels). He wrapped the cup in 2 large linen napkins and started swinging it around over his head yelling something spectacular was about to happen, The genius of Dali was creating an object for all to enjoy and marvel at. With a huge crash Dali brought the cup smashing down into the table. Certainly if anyone had not been paying attention, they were now, including the management at the bar and all the wait staff who came running. Dali told everyone that everything is fine, he had just created a masterpiece, and had made the project of this mans dream a reality. Dali carefully unwrapped the napkins to reveal a smashed cup, in what was likely to be hundreds of pieces, and explained to the man here is his project. It is a puzzle, a puzzle which not only payed homage to Moa and China, but when it was completed, could also be used as a drinking vessel. Dali explained it was late, Gala would be waiting, and immediately excused himself to go upstairs. I was left with the stunned businessman with his worthless smashed cup. I just explained that it would be tough to bring to reality, but would be great if he could.



Below are more facts pulled from the web on Dali's iconic piece


The Pope of Pop Art Andy Warhol devoted in 1964 silkscreen prints reproduced around the world. Far less known is the "Mao-Marilyn" array created in 1971 by El Salvador Dalí. The hybrid work was conceived from a photographic montage made by Philippe Halsman. It recognizes the voluptuous star facies with the bald and the col de Mao. The image later served to the illustration of the cover of the album of the opera-poem "Being God", recorded by Salvador Dalí in 1974 in the Paris studios of Pathé-Marconi. In this strange musical work devoted to the Creation of the world, the Dali Prophet announced that China and the US will unite one day to dominate the planet.

American identity is a mixture of multiple, successive migratory waves from races: European, Hispanic, Asian. The first currency of the United States "E Pluribus Unum" (from many, one) is a constitutional reflection of this demographic mix. The ambiguous composition of Dali exceeds the spirit of fusion of ethnic origins to take the character of a prescient signal to geopolitical character. Because the equivocal symbol created in 1971 by the catalan painter-visionary has a political meaning. The facts of contemporary history evidenced.

When U.S. president Richard Nixon visited in 1974 in Beijing at the invitation of Mao Zedong to enable the trade between the USA and China, Dali had sent to Chairman Mao a reproduction of "Mao-Marilyn". This iconographic Assembly remained a paradoxical symbol of relations between Beijing and Washington, become confrontational. Because in forty years, the Affairs of the world have evolved.

China, gigantic factory of the world, is fast becoming the world's largest economy. The rivalry between the two superpowers toured tug-of-war between the weakened dollar and the Chinese yuan currency. The United States would penalize China, accused of undervaluing its currency to boost its exports, destroying the passage of thousands of American jobs.

Thanks to the intuition of the visionary Dali, the e 50anniversary of the death of Marilyn became a signal, which brings together American neoliberalism and the strange Chinese communism in a mind-blowing spectrum. In February 2012, the Chinese have pledged to rebalance their economies, but the revaluation of the yuan is still not the order of the day. Since 2008, the recurring problems of sovereign debt in the eurozone provoked deep disorders international financially. It is still not the end of the tunnel of the crisis. A binding war of currencies between China and America would have deadly consequences for the entire planet. 

bottom of page