Above: The New York Times front page notice of Peter Arno’s passing. To the right: his last New Yorker drawing, captioned “Oh grow up!” was finished a few months before he died.
The New Yorker’s top-hatted mascot bid goodbye once before, back in August of 1937, when Otto Soglow gave us Tilley, not in a Cadillac, but in the back of a Victoria, and embarking from The Plaza Hotel, not Times Square. Back then, Tilley was substituting for E.B. White, who had decided on taking a leave of absence from New York & The New Yorker. The drawing appeared at the bottom of White’s farewell Talk of The Town piece. A tearful Thurber dog follows close by the rear wheel. Eustace tips his hat to two waving women in black, holding muffs: Peter Arno’s Whoops Sisters.
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.
I’m pleased to announce that Mad At Something, my biography of the late and very great New Yorker cartoonist, Peter Arno will be published by Regan Arts.
Arno is one of the pillars of The New Yorker‘s earliest days, a group that includes Harold Ross, E.B. White, Katharine White, and James Thurber. Ross, the magazine’s founder and first editor called Arno “our pathfinder artist” and “the greatest artist in the world.” It is indeed the case that Arno’s work for the magazine raised the graphic bar so high that “New Yorker cartoon” became synonymous with excellence in the field.
The idea for an Arno biography began back in 1999 in true cartoonist fashion: as an A-Ha! moment as I was driving in the vicinity of Arno’s home just outside of Manhattan; I realized that he had never been the subject of a biography. Since that moment I’ve spent the past fifteen years researching and writing about his life.
Mad At Something is not just an examination of Arno’s life and work, it is also an exploration of the birth and development of the New Yorker cartoon, as well as the magazine’s fabled art department, and its artists. One of the many wonderful things about being a New Yorker cartoonist is the opportunity it’s afforded me to meet other New Yorker cartoonists. Since beginning the biography I’ve reached out to my colleagues asking them to share their thoughts on Arno’s work. The list includes Arno contemporaries such as William Steig, Syd Hoff, Robert Weber, Frank Modell, Eldon Dedini, Ed Fisher, through post-Arno contributors such as Jack Ziegler, Roz Chast, Peter Steiner, Bruce Eric Kaplan and Edward Sorel. I am especially pleased that the book’s curtain closer is composed of their contributions.
Mad At Something will be published in 2016.
Cartoons on the block by Steinberg, Mischa Richter, Barbara Shermund, William Steig, Richard Taylor, Edward Sorel, Victoria Roberts, Charles Addams, Helen Hokinson, Rea Irvin, and Peter Arno.
Below: a beautiful early Steig included in the auction.
Ordinarily, New Yorker cartoon calendars, diaries, and the like aren’t listed here, but this sounds like it’s not your ordinary calendar, so I’m making an exception.
Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s blurb for The New Yorker 365 Days of Covers Page-A-Day Gallery Calendar 2016:
“…this calendar features hundreds of the very best examples, all beautifully reproduced in full color. Here are iconic covers from Jean-Jacques Sempé, George Booth, Maira Kalman, Arthur Getz, Roz Chast, and the other illustrators whose work has helped shape The New Yorker’s inimitable style. Unprecedented quality with its exceptional art, coated paper, and exacting standards of color printing, this calendar is a gallery for your desk.”
From Business Insider, December 31, 2014, this short video featuring The New Yorker’s Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff: “Scientists Discovered What Makes Something Funny”