The first-ever biography of Peter Arno, the legendary cartoonist who created what we now know as the New Yorker cartoon—and one of the great bon vivants and womanizers of New York in the 1930s and ’40s.
The New Yorker’s founding editor, Harold Ross, may have been exaggerating when he referred to Peter Arno as “the greatest artist in the world.” But in the context of the transformative impact Arno had on that magazine, and on magazine illustration overall, Ross may not have been that far off. Many may be familiar with examples of Arno’s art, but few know the story of his extraordinary life and career. Arno has never been the subject of a biography even though he’s “one of a select few who made The New Yorker, The New Yorker.” But now he does.
Arno’s fateful arrival at The New Yorker came just as he was about to give up on his career as an artist, and just when the young magazine was beginning to fail. But Arno’s sensibility and style brought an immediate buzz to its pages, which stabilized the magazine’s readership for good. Handsome, as well-dressed as he was well-connected, Peter Arno was The New Yorker’s own Gatsby, a dashing man-about-town who lived the life he sent up in his classic and irreverent cartoons and covers. He was a celebrity whose social and romantic life was closely followed by the tabloids, and readers across the country got glimpses of jazz-age excess in his art, a heady combination, which anticipate our current celebrity age. In the process he created what we know today as The New Yorker cartoon.
Arno’s outsized life and career weren’t without considerable challenges. In fact, he declared no one could do any good creative work unless he was “mad at something.” Arno had plenty of inspiration in that respect and it fueled a roller coaster career which finally, in Michael Maslin’s able hands, gets its full due.