The late great New Yorker artist, Peter Arno was born 110 years ago today at home in Morningside Heights, New York. As many regular visitors to Ink Spill know, I began a biography of Mr. Arno back in 1999. Someday, a publisher willing, Mad At Something: The Life and Times of Peter Arno will be available to all those wishing to know a whole lot more about him.
Arno began contributing to The New Yorker in June of 1925 and continued contributing until his death in 1968 (his last cover for the magazine appears above). Over the past fifteen years I’ve asked New Yorker cartoonists to talk to me about Arno. Today I’ve decided to run a handful of their responses. Some of these cartoonists were contemporaries of Arno’s, and some are in the early phase of their New Yorker cartoonist adventure.
Frank Modell began contributing cartoons to The New Yorker in 1946. I first interviewed Frank in February of 2000 and then again this past Fall.At 95 he is one of the two New Yorker contributors still with us who actually met Arno (Lillian Ross is the other. Roger Angell told me he spoke with Arno on the phone, but never actually met him).
“Let me tell you something about [Arno] – he was a worrier. As good as he was, and as strong an artist as he was, surprisingly he was the most worried of all the cartoonists about his drawing. He would call up [The New Yorker’s Art Department] and say, ‘Did you get that drawing, the finish I sent in – did you print it yet?’ And I’d say no, then he’d say, ‘Don’t print it! Tell Geraghty I’m doing another one – I don’t want him to print it until I do another one.’ Then he’d send in another version that didn’t look any different than the first.”
Syd Hoff, who died in 2004, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1931
“Arno belonged to the great era of Benchley, E.B. White, Perelman, etc., the era of the Great Depression and two emerging classes, upper and lower. Arno belonged to the upper. Who’ll ever forget his Park Avenue types, on their way to a newsreel theater ‘to hiss Roosevelt’? Those bold drawings! Nobody could imitate them. They had to come out of the bourgeoisie! I remember him standing outside 25 West 43rd Street! He was big and narrow, just like his men, without [the] handlebar mustaches…”
Robert Weber. If you ask 20 cartoonists to name the top ten cartoonists to come out of the post-Harold Ross years, Robert Weber’s name will surely be on that list. Mr. Weber’s distinctive bold effortless line is a thing to behold. Mr. Weber will be 90 this coming April. He began contributing to The New Yorker in 1962.
“I wish I had known or even just met Arno and I regret I didn’t. I’ve always admired his work, particularly his later work for The New Yorker. I don’t think I ever consciously tried to emulate him, although I’ve learned a lot from his superb sense of composition and drama. He had a marvelous ability to simplify. He never permitted anything extraneous, and he developed a powerful style unlike anyone else. And, of course, he was funny. Put me down as a big fan.”
Alex Gregory began contributing to The New Yorker in 1999. Besides his work for the magazine he works in television and film.
“As far as Arno’s impact on me personally, I grew up looking enviously at his drawings in anthologies. I would say that Arno is the New Yorker artist that I would most like to have emulated yet had the least capacity to do so. His cartoons are like black-and-white Matisses. but in some ways even more accomplished. – they capture a person’s mood, character, and breeding with just a few thick supremely confident brush strokes. The art direction in each panel is flawless; characters are placed perfectly, and the action is always expressive without being broad. And as rich as each image is, he never gets bogged down in any details that could slow down the joke. His drawings appear to be done by a man who has never known a moment of fear or self-doubt in his life. I suppose it was Arno more than any other cartoonist save Thurber that made me think of cartooning as an actual art form.”
Al Ross, who died in 2012, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1937.
“Arno was special. He was special like Charles Addams was special, and Price was special. You know what I mean?”
George Booth began sharing his wonderful world of dogs, cats and characters with The New Yorker’s readership in 1969.
“Peter Arno’s work stands out and holds up in the test of time. His drawings and words were never timid, or just clever. They stated high quality, joy, confidence, strength, style, humor, idea, life, simplicity. His color was right; black and white became color. His cartoons were researched, with words well applied. The communication was clear and timely. He knew what he was doing. Peter Arno was an artist worthy who gave something of value to the world. A hero.”
Eldon Dedini, who died in 2006, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1950.
“[Arno’s] cartoons were a major inspiration to me. His staging of a gag was masterful in its simplicity. No extra crap — the point -bang! Even today when I have trouble with a drawing I ask myself ‘How would Arno do it?’ and look in collections of his for the answer…Arno is still the model for me and for any thinking cartoonist.”
Paul Noth began contributing to The New Yorker in 2004. Besides his work for the magazine he has also written for television.
“I was attracted to library books of his when I was a kid because of the sexy ladies (I was raised a strict Catholic, so actual nudity was too much for me, but cartoons like his were somehow okay).
Mischa Richter, who died in 2001, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1950.
“A modern Daumier.”
Barbara Smaller began contributing to The New Yorker in 1996.
“Arno’s sophisticated bad boy sensibilities never resonated with me in the way a William Steig or George Price’s more plebian ones did. Still there is much I admire about his drawings, particularly his wonderful deep blacks and dramatic compositions. I also admit to enjoying the People magazine aspects of his private life; the high highs and the satisfying low lows. They are an object lesson to all wayward cartoonists!”
Henry Martin began contributing to The New Yorker in 1964
“… Jim Geraghty bought three ideas from me for Arno in 1964 and 1965. He was the master, but like so many of the greats the idea wells ran dry, but, lord, how they could create memorable drawings.”
Kim Warp began contributing to The New Yorker in 1999.
“Peter Arno wasn’t the reason I became a cartoonist in particular but he was always part of the cartoon collections that fascinated me as a child…I was impressed by the graphic power of his drawings ( although I wouldn’t have called it that at the time of course) and by the world he portrayed. In particular I remember the “I’m checking up for the company, Madam. Have you any of our fuller Brush men.?” Cartoon which somehow melded in my mind with his man in the shower cartoon. This was a much more interesting world of possibility than I was being led to believe existed by 1960s TV shows. When I think of him now I’m struck by the grown-up playfulness and joy of life his cartoons portray which contrasts with the work-obsessedness of today. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t know too many people who have wild cocktail parties after work or fuller brush men hidden in their apartment. Everyone is at soccer practice with the kids.”
Edward Sorel began contributing to The New Yorker in 1990. Mr. Sorel, I believe, is the closest we’ve come to a modern day Arno.
“It was Arno, not John Held, Jr. who was the true artist of the Jazz Age. Not only was his canvas much larger—including not only the coeds in their yellow slickers, but rich clubmen, gold-diggers, Hollywood illiterates, the unemployed, and most especially, satyrs and other pursuers of sex. And beyond his subject matter, his style of drawing, so spontaneous looking, is much more in keeping with the spirit of the roaring, anything goes, twenties, than Held’s meticulous, carefully designed cartoons. Once the Jazz Age was over, Held seemed antique, whereas Arno’s style not only kept going, but attracted several imitators.”
And last, but certainly not least, William Steig. Mr. Steig, who died in 2003, began his New Yorker career in 1930.
“I like his work.”