Thanks For The High Bar, Peter Arno

An Arno anthology from 1930

From 1999 through 2016 I happily threw a good percentage of my days into digging up whatever I could about Peter Arno, who was born 115 years ago this very day. All of that hunting and gathering turned into a book (I will be forever grateful to my agent and publisher for making that happen).

One of the most helpful elements in my research was Arno’s unpublished scattershot memoir, titled I Reached For The Moon. The sixty-some pages of material is mostly disconnected pieces, a very loose attempt at a timeline, and jotted down thoughts about his work, or his parents, or television, or “names” he ran into during his adventures in the city that never sleeps. One passage of strung together thoughts stayed with me during my years writing the book and has continued to stay with me:

“What many don’t realize is that I’m primarily an artist – though I had a natural urge toward the comic from school days on.… I’ve spent hundreds of hours painting in oils and other media.  The black and white [cartoons] are a synthesis of all these efforts…To be a great cartoonist, a man should be first a first-class great artist.  He should be capable of producing a minor masterpiece in any medium.”

I suppose the passage has stuck with me because it neatly sums-up the high bar Arno demanded of himself and hoped for from his colleagues as the New Yorker was taking baby steps in its earliest days. That high bar was no small thing. Think about what people think about when they think of New Yorker cartoons. Think about the well-worn expression, The first thing people turn to in The New Yorker are the cartoons. If that is true (and I believe it has truth to it) Peter Arno deserves a Mack truck full of credit for driving the readership to the magazine and, no less a thing, driving his colleagues to excellence.

Look through any issue of The New Yorker from Arno’s run there during the magazine’s so-called Golden Age and you will see a magazine overjoyed with the cartoons it had to show the readership; cartoons played across the page; cartoons ran full page; cartoons ran in spreads that took up multiple pages; cartoonists provided the majority of cover art. Arno’s art, and Arno’s influence on the art was central to the magazine’s exuberance. He was, in the words of the New Yorker‘s founder, Harold Ross:

“The greatest artist in the world.”

“Our first pathfinder.”

“Our spark plug.”

Happy birthday, Arno — and thanks for the high bar.



Peter Arno’s 115th

Curtis Arnoux Peters, Jr., later known as Peter Arno, was born one hundred and fifteen years ago this month. The Spill will celebrate with an Arno post a week in January.

Twenty-one years later, he began his four decade association with the New Yorker. We cartoonists who arrived in his wake owe him much.

Arno’s approach to his art became a blueprint of sorts for generations of New Yorker artists, defining just how much they brought to their work. The power of his art, the quality of it, led to a collective identity of excellence associated with all New Yorker cartoons. He said of his work:

“I can assure you that my effects are achieved through pain and toil, concentration, elimination, revision, nervous expenditure, great aspiration, and continuous elimination of tasteless detail — seeking for primitive quality. 

Fierce integrity in my work is ‘pursuit of truth’ … I’m far from a poetry-lover, but have been expressing poetry all my life — in rhythms, line, form, balance, good taste, harmony, and balance of black, white and gray.”

From the Afterword of my Arno bio, this snippet describing his well-deserved place at The New Yorker:

For most, if not all of The New Yorker’s golden years, a period stretching from the late 1920s through the 1950s, he was the magazine’s signature artist, as closely identified with the New Yorker as Eustace Tilley, the magazine’s ficticious top-hatted mascot.  At a time when the magazine was publishing work by James Thurber, Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg, Helen Hokinson, Gluyas Williams, Whitney Darrow Jr., Otto Soglow, George Price, and William Steig, it was Arno whom Harold Ross called “the greatest artist in the world.” Of the first seventeen New Yorker Albums of cartoons, fourteen led off with full page Arno drawings, and six of the Albums bore Arno covers (no other New Yorker artist came close). Arno’s drawings usually ran full page. His covers, brilliant as a child’s watercolor and as deceptively simple, made just over a hundred memorable appearances.

Thurber made the covers of Time and of Newsweek;  the country was smitten with Helen Hokinson’s lunch club women — but “America’s prize comic artist,” “the dean of sophisticated cartoonists,” the “top satirist of cosmopolitan life,” the one who “exemplified The New Yorker’s artistic humor for thousands here and abroad” was Arno.

For a whole lot more on Arno, you might take a look at my 2016 effort, Peter Arno: The Mad Mad World Of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist.


An Arno Inspired Play Comes Back to NYC

The New Yorkers (playbill)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Broadway in 1930 (the original program appears above), this Peter Arno inspired musical returns for a short run in March.  Here’s the description from the New York Theatre Guide:

NEW YORKERS, THE
A Sociological Musical Satire

Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Herbert Fields, based on a story by E. Ray Goetz & Peter Arno
Musical
at Encores!
at New York City Center (Mainstage)

Bullets fly and bathtub gin flows in this 1930 Prohibition jape, which is a gleefully amoral celebration of speakeasies, gangsters, society dames and the great city they love. The musical centers on featherbrained socialite Alice Miller, whose bootlegger beau leads her on a madcap romp from Park Avenue to Sing Sing and back again.
(from 22 Mar 2017 – Closing on 26 Mar 2017)

For more on Arno’s involvement with Broadway theater, including The New Yorkers and Here Goes The Bride, check out my biography of Arno.

Wikipeda’s entry on the The New Yorkers .

The Tilley Watch: New Yorker’s 16th new cartoonist of 2016; An Arno Ad

Tilley Watch...

The inclusion of a cartoon by Ellis Rosen in the December 12th issue of The New Yorker marks a record-breaking moment for new cartoonists added to the magazine’s stable; so far in 2016  16 new cartoonists have been published. Last year 15 new cartoonists were added. In 2014, 13 new cartoonists were added.  Between 1997, when Bob Mankoff became Cartoon Editor and initiated his so-called open door policy, through 2013, the average number of new cartoonists per year was 5.

Link here to Mr. Rosen’s website.

 

...Also of note in the December 12th issue: a full page (under the heading Sketchbook) by the fabulous George Booth.

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From the Department of Shameless Self-promotion

Regular visitors to Ink Spill may have noticed that I do not run ads on the site. I’m making an exception just this once and posting an ad produced by my publisher, Regan Arts. And as long as I’m bringing up Arno, I thought I’d share Edward Short’s thoughtful review of Arno in the December issue of England’s Literary Review. It appears below the ad.

And with that, I bid self-promotion adieu…at least for what’s left of this year.

pa-ad

 

The Great Satyrist Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of the New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist By Michael Maslin (Regan Arts 287pp $26.95)

Many things made the New Yorker successful in its heyday. The magazine showcased the work of America’s best humorists, from James Thurber and Robert Benchley to Dorothy Parker and S J Perelman. Its eccentric founding editor, Harold Ross, knew how to coax good work out of his writers, even though he was fanatical about fact-checking. (Thurber recalled that if the Empire State Building were mentioned in a piece, Ross would not let it run until someone had called to verify that it was still standing.) The magazine could count on an audience ripe for its signature wit and sophistication. As F Scott Fitzgerald wrote, ‘New York had all of the iridescence of the beginning of the world … there was gala in the air.’ But what ultimately made the magazine a hit was its cartoons, and the greatest of its cartoonists was Peter Arno. The patrician son of a judge who disinherited him after he dropped out of Yale, Arno turned to cartooning largely to spite his father. Indeed, the butts of his cartoons were often men of his father’s class and generation, greybeards at play in the new cafe society that emerged after the First World War. When his father divorced his English mother to marry a secretary sixteen years his junior, Arno was given his greatest character: the sugar daddy infatuated with buxom showgirls and typists on the make. If Evelyn Waugh got his own back at his Dickens-loving father by sending up his mania for the Victorian novelist in A Handful of Dust, Arno got revenge on his by creating cartoon after cartoon showing what he nicely referred to as the ‘goggle-eyed lubricity’ of ageing lotharios. In Peter Arno, Michael Maslin (a cartoonist for the magazine himself) serves up the first full-length biography of the handsome, high-living, debonair artist. Before Arno, most cartoons in American publications were formulaic and decorous. In his bold, often sexually suggestive cartoons, Arno introduced a new urbanity, at once whimsical and subversive. Without Arno’s lead, as the artist in Maslin appreciates, the New Yorker might never have published the cartoons of Thurber, Charles Addams or Saul Steinberg, all of whom owe Arno an immense debt. As for Arno’s life, Maslin shows how the artist spent much of his time ringing the midnight bell in swanky nightclubs. Maslin gives a particularly memorable glimpse into Prohibition New York when he describes Ross closing down a speakeasy he had created for his staff after finding Arno and his first wife, Lois Long, deshabille on the floor. Apparently, as Long later recalled, the couple began drinking in the afternoon and simply forgot that they were married and had an apartment of their own to go to. On the subject of his club crawls, Arno could be eloquent: ‘At no time in the history of the world have there been so many damned morons gathered together in one place as New York right now … The town squirms with them … You don’t do good work of this sort unless you’re mad at something.’ If saeva indignatio was one source of his talent, a fine sense of the ridiculous was another. In one of his cartoons, a man bathing in the sea turns to a young woman and says, ‘Pardon me, Miss. You’re standing on my flippers.’ In another, an old satyr cavorts before a young blonde sitting beneath a tree. Her response is immortal: ‘Oh, grow up!’ At the end of his life, weary of playing the sardonic bon vivant, Arno left Manhattan for Westchester, where he discovered the joys of country life before succumbing to emphysema. He also found that he could forgive his papa. His last cover for the New Yorker shows an old polar bear touching noses with one of his cubs, a fitting farewell to the anger that had animated his earlier muse. Maslin’s book is a fascinating tribute from one artist to another, which does proper justice to a masterly draughtsman and an inspired wag.

Gil Roth’s Virtual Memories Ink Spill Podcast

gil-roth-in-our-kitchen-sept-2016From the Department of Self-Promotion:

Gil Roth (shown standing in our kitchen last week) has an awful lot of cartoonists on his podcast,Virtual Memories. He visited recently to tape two more (with Liza Donnelly and myself).  The interview with Ms. Donnelly will show up a few Tuesdays from now, but in the meantime you can hear Gil grill me here.