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Peter Arno: America's Guilty Pleasure

Peter Arno born on this day in 1904,  has occupied a great deal of my time for the past decade.  I've not quite finished his biography, but it's well along.  In honor of his 102nd birthday, here's a brief excerpt from Chapter One:

Arno became a celebrity, a name, just as the roaring twenties were fizzling out.  From the late 1920s through the mid 1940s, he bathed in the limelight; flashbulbs popped in his face, and newsreel cameras swiveled in his direction.  During those years he seemed constantly on the move -- even when he sat still.   When (then) newspaper reporter Joseph Mitchell interviewed him in 1937, Arno's foot constantly tapped.  He had a lot of nervous energy.

The New Yorker was Arno's weekly showcase, where his trademark full page cartoons constructed of confident swooping charcoal lines and bold washes wowed and teased the readership.  His drawings of husbands' and wives' cat-and-mouse games, and husbands and lovers, and wives and lovers, crooked politicians, and less-than-Godly ministers, the common man and the cowardly man, the wealthy, the show girl, the scantily clad wife, aunt, jaded call girl, the wide-eyed college girl, the battleship grande dames, the sugar daddys, the precocious young and clueless elders all rained down upon a grateful nation.  In the pre-Playboy era, he was The New Yorker's and America's guilty pleasure -- openly and gleefully celebrating sex. 

Six feet two inches tall, darkly handsome, "patent-leather" hair slicked back tight on his head, a Batman-like square jaw, Arno was a poster boy for the well-to-do young man about town.  If he wasn't working all through the night, then he was on the prowl, moving easily through the social hurricane known as Cafe Society.  He was constantly photographed during those champagne and tuxedo days, out on the town with attractive women.
Who could be blamed for confusing the man with his work, and perhaps even believing the man was his work.

 

 





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