I am currently reading Nick Tosches' biography of Sonny Liston, The Devil and Sonny Liston, and in working my way through the bruised purple prose, mafia anecdotes and occasional match recaps I came across this compelling tidbit about Liston's "acting career":
He did a 1969 Braniff Airline commercial with Andy Warhol, in which he sat in unsmiling silence, ostensibly aboard a Braniff aircraft, while Warhol, in the next seat, spoke to him of the "inherent beauty" of soup cans.
If in trying to imagine the baddest man in America post-Ali, you are stunned into incomprehension by this anecdote, then you and I are in the same company. After reading the passage I immediately went to YouTube, hoping to find the ad showcasing three brands now well past their expiration date. Of course, YouTube came through:
More than unsmiling, Liston looks like he is cracking marbles with his molars. The writers, tongues firmly in cheek, describe Liston as "gabby." I am guessing if Liston were to have opened his mouth it would have been to announce he was going to kill this skinny motherfucker. After which, he would have broken Warhol into tiny pieces and eaten him.
This exercise in incongruity was Braniff's marketing plan. They ran a similar ad with Whitey Ford and Salvador Dali debating the difficulty of throwing a knuckleball versus a screwball. Sports and Art. See everyone, culture and counter-culture can sit in adjoining seats and completely misunderstand one another. Only on Braniff.