Monday, March 21, 2016

Peter Arno's Side-Show for July 1936

In its July 1936 issue, the magazine College Humor announced "a brand new feature by the inimitable Peter Arno." It was called "Side-Show" and it occupied a two-page spread in the magazine typically with one cartoon on the left-hand page and two panel cartoons on the right. So let the Side-Show begin. Step right on in.

Peter Arno leads off with a full page cartoon bearing the caption "Exactly what do you expect to gain by this, Mr. Benkly." The smart college student of 1936 knew exactly what Mr. Benkly expected to gain, and therein lies the supposed humor, but is this dumb blonde joke more amusing or menacing? The woman shows no hint of giving consent here; indeed she expresses only alarm. Mr. Benkly is forcibly blocking her exit from an extremely uncomfortable situation. Even in 1936, this should have raised a red flag.

"Exactly what do you expect to gain by this, Mr. Benkly?"
"Peter Arno's Side-Show," College Humor, Vol. 2, No. 2, July 1936, p. 10

The benign interchange between the female passenger and the conductor in the second cartoon involves a kind of double-or-nothing coin toss wager with the fare, presumably a dime. As the New York City transit fare was 5 cents between 1904 and 1948, the ten-cent fare being wagered with the conductor must be a more expensive service, perhaps a ferry or intercity bus. These would have been quite familiar to college students, most of whom had to be somewhat regular travelers. The proffered wager, which the conductor finds annoying, is probably not nearly as clever or droll as the woman seems to think.

The final cartoon is much closer to what we expect to see from Peter Arno. You know the Normandie. It was an ocean liner immortalized in a famous poster by A. M. Cassandre. This cartoon is set not on the ship itself but in one of the Normandie's lifeboats. The humor, of course, lies in the eventual realization of what the couple must have been doing there in the first place.

"Twenty cents or nothing!" [above]
"My God! Somebody's launched us." [below]

"Peter Arno's Side-Show," College Humor, Vol. 2, No. 2, July 1936, p. 11

Today the most popular image of the Normandie is the iconic poster, published about two years after Arno's cartoon.
A. M. Cassandre, Normandie, Paris, circa 1938.
Estimate: $15,000 to $20,000 (2011).
Sold for $16,800 with buyer's premium.

Don't worry, it seems there's a '70's reference for every occasion:
"Sideshow" (1974)
Blue Magic

Note:  While this is Peter Arno's first regular Side-Show feature in College Humor, he published many cartoons in the magazine prior to this issue. If your humor library includes any of these issues with vintage Arno cartoons, please forward scans or photos to Attempted Bloggery. A world lacking a sense of humor awaits your decisive action.

Peter Arno, easily one of the top cartoonists of all time, died in 1968 and now, just forty-eight years later, his first full scale biography is to be published on April 19 by Regan Arts. Peter Arno:  The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker's Greatest Cartoonist by Michael Maslin is available for pre-order on Go ahead, try offering them double or nothing.

Poster artist A. M. Cassandre was a master of the genre. See how much his L.M.S. Best Way poster of 1928 sold for at Swann Auction Galleries in 2012.

The copy of College Humor, Vol. 2, No. 2, for July 1936 seen in this post is located in the Steven Boss humor magazine collection at Columbia University in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Who says higher education has lost its way? Thanks to librarian Karen Green for letting me know where Columbia hides the good stuff.


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