Curtis Arnoux Peters Jr (1904-1968), known as ‘Peter Arno’
Hailed as ‘the greatest artist in the world’ by its founder Harold Ross, Peter Arno did much to establish The New Yorker’s reputation for sophisticated humour, through his satirical look at the decadent New York society of the inter-war period. Quickly establishing himself as one of the pillars of the magazine’s earliest days, Peter Arno would continue to produce cartoons and covers for The New Yorker until his death, an association of over 40 years. Described as ‘a master of composition’, perhaps his most famous cartoon, which he produced in 1941, coined the phrase ‘back to the old drawing board’.
Peter Arno was born Curtis Arnoux Peters Jr in New York, on 8 January 1904, the son of a New York State Supreme Court Justice. Encouraged to draw from an early age, he was educated at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT, before attending Yale between 1922-24. Whilst there, he contributed illustrations, covers and cartoons to campus magazine The Yale Record, under the name ‘Peters’.
Music was also a great passion, inspiring Arno to form the nine-piece jazz band the Yale Collegians, the members of which also included Rudy Vallée.
Following his graduation, Peters returned to New York and settled in the bohemian Greenwich Village. There he began painting decoratively, producing screens and panels for restaurants. He was on the verge of giving up on drawing to pursue a musical career, when the newly formed The New Yorker published one of his cartoons, marking the beginning of a collaboration that would last until his death. Crucial to developing the signature style and sophistication of the magazine, he would produce countless cartoons and 99 covers, as ‘Peter Arno’, over the course of his career, with founder Harold Ross describing him as ‘our pathfinder artist’.
In 1927, Peter Arno married Lois Long, a popular New Yorker columnist and fashion editor, who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Lipstick’. The embodiment of the 1920s ‘flapper’, Long also wrote reviews of New York clubs and speakeasies. Her popularity was such that when she became pregnant in 1929, Peter Arno first learnt of it through Walter Winchell’s gossip column in the New York Daily Mirror. They divorced in 1931, before Arno married socialite Mary Livingston Lansing in 1935. They had no children and divorced in 1939, after which Peter Arno moved to a farm near Harrison, NY.
In addition to his work for The New Yorker, Peter Arno co-authored the 1931 musical satire Here Comes the Bride, and produced numerous books and collections of his work, such as Peter Arno’s Parade (1929), Peter Arno’s Man in the Shower (1944) and Peter Arno’s Sizzling Platter (1949).
Peter Arno died of emphysema in Port Chester, NY, on 22 February 1968. A biography, Mad At Something, by The New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin, is due to be published in 2016.
Robert C Harvey, ‘Arno, Peter (8 Jan 1904-22 Feb 1968)’, John A Garraty and Mark C Carnes (eds), American National Biography, Oxford University Press, 1999, vol 1, pages 628-629