Six or seven years ago, reading an online list of notable films never produced, Josh Frank “caught wind of a mythical idea”: Giraffes on Horse Salad, a collaboration between Salvador Dalí and Harpo Marx.

“It was a deeply lost story,” says Frank, an author, producer, director and songwriter who calls himself a “pop culture archaeologist.”

The Spanish surrealist painter and the American comic actor met at a party in Paris in 1936 and conceived the film when Dalí visited Marx in California in 1937. But it was never made, though the Marx Brothers were at the height of their fame then and Dalí was the sensation of the art world.

“I knew finding it would be a huge challenge. It really felt like a moonrise,” Frank said over the phone during a stop on his book tour.

This book tour marks Frank’s moon landing. girafes in salad on horseback is his new graphic novel that brings the long lost film to life. Frank recovered Dalí’s grades and treatment, obtained blessings from the Dalí and Marx estates, and collaborated with comedy writers in California, an illustrator in Spain, and a composer in Japan to make his version of the film.

Frank will be in St. Petersburg on Wednesday to talk about the book at the Dalí Museum.

The project has its roots, he says, in his fascination with Harpo Marx. Although the speechless but tumultuous brother Marx died years before the birth of Frank, 44, the author has been a fan of the Marx Brothers since he was a child, thanks to a cinephile father. He was particularly drawn to Harpo because of his “unbridled childish fantasy, madness and rebellion.”

Peter Tush, the education curator at the Dalí Museum, says Dalí had a similar vision.

“Dalí said that the three most important American surrealists were Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney and the Marx Brothers,” he says.

Dalí had “an active interest in cinema” from the start, says Tush. The artist collaborated with the Spanish director Luis Bunuel on the surreal silent film An Andalusian dog in 1929; Dalí abandoned their second film, Golden age, a year later after a falling out.

He’s always been drawn to Hollywood, Tush says. Dalí’s pursuit of cinema ranged from discussions with studio director Jack Warner to involvement in another legendary un-produced film, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to film Frank Herbert’s book. Dune in the 1970s.

Dalí’s most successful cinematic foray has been his haunting dream streak for Alfred Hitchcock Bewitched in 1944. He also worked with Walt Disney on an animated short, Destiny, in 1945, but he never finished it. (The Disney company produced a version in 2003.)

As keen as Dalí was to make films, says Tush, he “kept coming up with these impossible scenarios that would prevent that from happening.”

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Giraffes on Horse Salad seemed like another one of those impossible scenarios. “Doing it as a graphic novel was incredibly smart,” says Tush. “The illustrations are quite beautiful.”

Before the project became a book, Frank says, it made “a long trip down the rabbit hole.

“It happened 80 years ago, and all I had to work with was a paragraph on the list.”

He found an article from 1938 on the film proposed in Harper’s Bazaar who “told me it was actually real.” From there, he contacted the Dalí Foundation in Figueres, Spain, for information. There was a book that could reference the movie, he was told. “They said there was a printed volume, and there were a few copies in Portuguese.”

Frank was able to get a copy. “That’s when I went through 800 pages of Portuguese. I don’t know Portuguese, so I just looked for the words ‘Marx’ or ‘Harpo’. I found three or four. . “

This tenuous connection eventually led to the Center Pompidou in Paris, which had a notebook from Dalí on the film. When Frank received a copy by email, he was delighted to find 84 pages (pictures of some pages are reproduced in the book) of screenplay ideas, character and stage notes, and Dalí’s sketches.

“That’s where it blossomed,” he says.

It seemed clear, however, there was no actual script. Frank was faced not only with building Dalí’s hallucinatory plot, but also the incredibly arduous task of writing the Marx Brothers’ dialogue. Groucho and Chico would have considered the double meaning as a game of amateurs; their understandings were generally at least quadruple.

Frank recruited comedian Tim Heidecker to put together a team of comedy writers to channel the distinctive voices of the Marxes. Then he set off in search of his “cinematographer” – an artist who could render the script visually. He found Manuela Pertega, an artist in Barcelona, ​​Spain, whose lush illustrations capture both the quality of black-and-white films like those made by the Marx brothers and the dreamlike weirdness of Dalí’s paintings.

The film needed a score, and Frank got one from composer Quin Arbeitman, an American who lives in Japan. The soundtrack will be released in May on Lakeshore Records, Frank says. There is also a title song from Pepe Deluxe.

Frank, who lives in Austin, Texas, and owns and operates the Blue Starlite Mini-Urban Drive-in cinema there, feels like he’s finally made this long-lost movie.

“I love making movies, but all of my ideas are epic. I needed to find a way to be an office filmmaker in a 300 square foot room with a computer in it.

“This one is the complete experience.”

Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

Giraffes on Horse Salad

By Josh Frank, adapted with Tim Heidecker, illustrated by Manuela Pertega

Weird Books, 223 pages, $ 29.99

Meet the author

Josh Frank will give a multimedia presentation on his book, followed by a book signing, Wednesday at 10:30 am as part of the Café with a Curator series at the Salvador Dalí Museum, One Dalí Blvd., St. Petersburg. To free. (727) 823-3767.