Iowa native portrays Salvador Dali in new Gaslight Cafe movie
Roland native Douglas Tjelmeland will play artist Salvador Dali in an upcoming independent film on Greenwich Village Gaslight Cafe, a must-see place for the music and counter-culture of the 50s and 60s.
The producers had previously planned to release the film in theaters, but COVID-19 has put production on hiatus.
“116 MacDougal” will be shot in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Tjelmeland lives and has a photography studio.
“It’s not just an independent film – it’s an epic independent film,” said Lynda Schneider, publicist and one of the film’s executive producers. “The scale of it is so different from that of most independent projects.”
The film has over 60 speaking roles, 10,000 square feet of set space, and musicians from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra perform the score.
The plot follows the real-life story of John Mitchell, a native of Pittsburgh, who opened the Gaslight Cafe, a music house that launched the careers of icons such as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary.
“He fought the town hall, the fire department and the Mafia to keep it open,” Schneider said. “It was a space that allowed artists to hone their craft – artists who continued to change the world.”
The Gaslight audience often included Salvador Dali, his wife, his mistress and his pet ocelot, who had his own chair at the table, she said.
Tjelmeland said he had never played a character like Dali, who was flamboyant, eccentric and unpredictable. He studied Dali videos from the 50s and 60s in preparation for the role.
“Salvador Dali is a very stimulating character,” said Tjelmeland. “He had a weird philosophical direction in his life. His personality was truly unique.
“Basically I absorbed the character through research and meditation exercises.”
Tjelmeland goes from Iowa farm to model to photographer to actor
Tjelmeland’s eclectic life is worthy of its own movie.
Tjelmeland grew up on a farm outside of Roland, breaking and raising horses, giving the experience a strong work ethic.
Graduated from NESCO High School in 1979, Tjelmeland received his Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce degree from Iowa State. He was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and was part of the Cyclones basketball team as a rookie before becoming a student director for summer camp manager coach Johnny Orr.
In 1989, Tjelmeland caught the eye of a Los Angeles-based talent scout. He had test photos taken and was sent to Italy to become a model, a career that turned into a “magical journey,” he said.
Tjelmeland has walked the catwalks in Milan, Paris, Rome, London and New York for some of the world’s top designers. He is best known as one of the faces of Ralph Lauren Polo advertising and promotions, which he did for a decade.
The farm boy-turned-international model has graced the pages of high-fashion publications such as GQ, Vogue, Esquire, Harpers Bazaar, Uomo Vogue, FHM and Mondo Uomo.
Tjelmeland studied theater in New York and kept the art alive by directing numerous international and national television commercials. He has also appeared in music videos, including a musical tribute to director David Lynch.
COVID-19 has enabled Tjelmeland and countless other actors across the country to be professionally self-sufficient.
“After the success of COVID, if I wanted to audition for a commercial, I had to do everything to get that audition submitted,” Tjelmeland said. “I did the acting, the filming, the lighting, the editing – everything.”
Tjelmeland’s debut film set to become a Broadway musical too
This will be Tjelmeland’s feature debut, and Schneider was impressed with the way he inhabits the character of Dali, calling him “unstoppable.”
The production was chosen to be the grand finale of the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival in April 2019.
“Even though we hadn’t shot the movie, they thought it was important enough,” Schneider said. “We did an immersive theatrical experience / live concert at the New Hazlett Theater on April 7, 2019.
“We brought in all the actors. It was very well received and we were very happy to see the chemistry of all the actors working together for the first time.”
The New Hazlett stage has been converted to Gaslight Cafe, with its own stage for performers including Ross Wilde as Bob Dylan & Peter Yarrow, Don Schrawder and Lisa Ann Goldsmith as Peter, Paul & Mary.
“All of our main circle artists have performed live,” said Schneider. “When the actor who plays Bob Dylan took the stage, there was an audible gasp from the audience, he looks so much like a young Dylan. The first song he did was “Blowin ‘in the Wind,” which was written at Gaslight.
The Hazlett-style program began with Tjelmeland entering as Salvador Dali with his mistress and wife on each arm.
“Doug really got him out of the park,” Schneider said. “The whole performance was magical. It was just magic.
The producers expect a Broadway play to stem from the film. The soundtrack is finished, which is crucial “because the music is such an integral part of the movie,” Schneider said.
Six Grammy-winning Jimmy Hoyson is one of the producers of the soundtrack. David Castro is the director of the project and Vincent Restauri is the screenwriter.
Producers interviewed iconic musicians – such as Maria Muldaur, Wavy Gravy, Carolyn Hester and Noel Paul Stookey from Peter, Paul & Mary – who were at Gaslight in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of them agreed to do a reunion scene together in the film.
“They will be playing music reviews watching the performances of the people who interpret them as younger ones on the Gaslight stage,” said Schneider.
Hollywood slows down during pandemic, pausing film
Work has progressed as much as possible on the “116 MacDougal” over the past year, “but this pandemic has hit everyone so hard,” Schneider said. “Hollywood has been practically closed.
“We are taking care of this, but we are optimistic that things will go at lightning speed as soon as the pandemic is over. We’re glad we were able to complete the soundtrack, because as soon as the pandemic is over, we have all the pieces in place.
Schneider estimated that it would take 30 to 45 days to build the sets, then 45 to 60 days for filming and another 45 to 60 days for post-production.
“Everyone has been hired,” she said. “All of this is just waiting for when they come together after the pandemic.
“I think the ‘Night at the Gaslight’ performance at the New Hazlett Theater was important for everyone – the cast, crew and everyone involved – to show what magic it’s going to be like when it’s filmed.
The themes of the film on civil rights reflect what is happening in today’s society
Schneider said that “116 MacDougal” is more than music. These are the turbulent times of the 1950s and 1960s – civil rights movements for race, gender and sexual orientation, the looming threat of nuclear war, the growth of Russian power, the misconduct of the police, organized crime infiltration and rampant conspiracy theories.
Events during the pandemic may make the film even more impactful to audiences than it would have been, she said.
“More important than ever is the whole story of Gaslight, which follows life today with protests and the struggle for rights – for minority rights, gay rights, feminism,” Schneider said. “Everything that happens today was happening then.”
Many musical icons were in Washington, DC, during the walk with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
“This film reminds and inspires us that we can survive and gain strength even in the most turbulent times,” said Schneider.