Sal Elefante: A Sort-Of Unhappy Wanderer

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SALVATORE “SAINT ELSEWHERE” ELEFANTE may very well be known more widely for his turn-of-the-century invention, spaghetti scissors. Ironically, neither that revolutionary device–nor the Nobel Peace Prize it subsequently won him–have anything to do with his place among the Pioneers of Creativity.

Unlike most immigrants to the US late in the nineteenth century, Salvatore didn’t come by choice. Instead, his chronic, on-the-job daydreaming had resulted in a pizza-oven fire that destroyed the favorite Neapolitan restaurant of King Umberto I, sparking a bitter court battle and resulting in Sal’s deportation from Italy.

Salvatore "Saint Elsewhere" Elefante

Salvatore “Saint Elsewhere” Elefante

Thus, to his existing repertoire of fantasies, Elefante would add a constant pining for the old country, one that after several years of wistful yearning would finally leave its mark on the old man’s countenance and lead those who knew him best to joke that you could always tell where Sal’s head was at just by looking at him.

And yet, despite the personal toll such absent-mindedness had taken on his own life, it appeared he was no more able to rein in that vivid imagination than he was able to will away the hair that grew out of his ears. Even the creation of the spaghetti scissors was an act he would eventually claim to be a symbolic one, a desperate attempt on his part to once and for all cut the strings with his homeland.

Before long, this preoccupation with life “before the fire” consumed him, and the few friends he’d acquired drifted away once more, unable to connect authentically with a man whose mind never strayed back to the here and now.

But Salvatore persevered despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. For instance, almost a century before art critic Robert Hughes would describe the seismic cultural impact of creativity in his book Shock of the New, humorist Mark Twain satirized the chronically distracted Salvatore in a New York Times interview entitled, “A Mind-Numbingly Sloth-Like Sludge and Opposite of Sparkling Conversation With Sal Elefante.”

Fortunately, we now know that Elefante’s wandering mind and distracted nature characterize a unique type of creativity, in large part because, in addition to spaghetti scissors, he also invented the Elefante Method of Brainstorming. In this groundbreaking technique, participants are instructed to let their minds wander to some far-off, preferably Mediterranean locale, and after an imaginary stay of at least two hours, to return with something delicious for everyone to share, like a nice cheese or crispy olive loaf.

So in the end, “Saint Elsewhere” Elefante demonstrated that creativity must be valued for its own contribution, irrespective of the weirdness of the individual, and that the rewards are in the long run worth the risk of exposure.


THE “PIONEERS OF CREATIVITY” ARE THE FORGOTTEN HEROES OF ADVERTISING & MARKETING, HERE TO REMIND US THAT CREATIVITY IS AS CREATIVITY DOES, EVEN IF WHAT IT DOES CAN AT TIMES BE SOMEWHAT ODDBALL.