A lot of material accumulates when you’ve been researching a subject for fifteen years. In my case, much of it was placed in a ramshackle assortment of black binders pictured here. There was also a binder [not pictured] labeled “Next” that contained a very very long checklist of things that needed looking into. The more I uncovered about Arno, the more I needed to discover. Over time, as the checklist dwindled, I was left with a handful (maybe two) of unresolved questions. Some will likely never be resolved, but I was certain that one question in particular could be answered by a visit to the Beinecke Library at Arno’s alma mater, Yale University (Arno didn’t graduate, but spent a busy freshman year there).
By visiting the Beinecke I could finally answer the question of whether Arno wrote James Thurber. Back in the late 1950s Thurber reached out to his fellow New Yorker contributors while putting together his memoir, The Years With Ross. I’d discovered years ago that the Beinecke holds Thurber’s papers from that project, including a file located in Box 2 that contains all the correspondence between Thurber and his colleagues. Did Arno write Thurber? I could wait to find out, and I did. Over the past few years I decided to save this last field trip for when my Arno biography had sold — a celebratory final run.
A couple of days ago, sitting a large table in the Beinecke’s well guarded reading room, I was handed Box 2. The correspondence folder inside was so thick it took up two-thirds of the box (the other third contained a folder of fan mail to Thurber); clearly, this was going to take awhile — a fun while. After two hours, after reading letters from Thurber to E.B. White and Katharine White, and their letters in response, and rounds of letters between Thurber and St. Clair McKelway, William Shawn, and Wolcott Gibbs, etc., etc., I found a letter from Thurber to Charles Addams. Thurber mentioned that he’d written Arno several times and never heard back. I realized, then and there, I wasn’t going to find a letter from Arno in this mountain of correspondence.
It fit an Arno trait I’d discovered to be mostly true: as an adult, he wasn’t much of a letter writer. Heck, I’d even been forewarned some years ago when I found a great little privately printed book of biographies, Faces & Facts by a fellow named Willis Birchman. Birchman (a caricaturist more than a biographer) allowed one page per subject, plus a page for a self-portrait. The first biography in the book is Arno’s, and it contains a sentence highly relevant to this blog post:
Arno never opens his mail.