Saturday, December 16, 2017

Blog Post No. 2400: Sizzling Platter Chatter

It is now time for us to take up the sizzling platter situation. Just imagining what might very well be the specialty of the house can make one’s mouth water. Yet New Yorker cartoonists very deliberately have avoided drawing sizzling platters for... well, decades. Three cartoons in the magazine's storied history specifically mention sizzling platters, but do we ever actually get to visualize the real deal? In 1937, cartoonist Barbara Shermund comes awfully close to drawing one, but there is so much steam there’s just nothing left to see. In other words, it's all sizzle and no platter.

Barbara Shermund
The New Yorker, March 13, 1937

Likewise, very early in 1949 cartoonist Robert Day does not delineate for us a sizzling platter either, only a couple discussing the fancy menu item. This time it's all talk and no sizzle.
Robert Day, The New Yorker, January 29, 1949

Thankfully, the subject finds its way to Peter Arno later in 1949, via gag writer Richard McCallister. In Arno's hands, the sizzling platter is no longer really a menu item at all; instead it's an unseen but potently-suggestive double entendre. Note how the provocatively-posed line of showgirls allows the viewer to imagine the comically-horrific incident described. And what a wonderful look of abject concern on the diner’s face! Yet there is paradoxically a complete absence of food anywhere in the drawing; there's not even a dish in sight. Now it's all innuendo and no platter.

Peter Arno, The New Yorker, May 7, 1949

Arno’s midcentury masterpiece put an understandable end to the small run of New Yorker cartoons on the subject of sizzling platters; there is simply no way to top it. So, do we ever actually get to see our talked-about sizzling platter? We certainly do, but it isn't to be found in the pages of The New Yorker. Rather, the long-awaited sizzling platter is finally depicted on the front cover dust jacket illustration for the collection Peter Arno's Sizzling Platter (1949). (You know a cartoon is iconic when it lends a published collection its title!) Arno's self-restraint has finally exhausted itself and it is only now that we get to feast our eyes on a hot sizzling platter...and the food doesn’t look so bad either.
Peter Arno's Sizzling Platter (1949)

Note:  I am grateful to New Yorker cartoonist and Peter Arno biographer Michael Maslin for identifying Richard McCallister as the gag writer of the Arno cartoon. Mr. Maslin's 2016 biography, Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of the New Yorker's Greatest Cartoonist, is available on Amazon and elsewhere at a mad, mad discount no Arno fan should pass up. Incidentally, if any reader can identify the gag writer for the two other sizzling platter cartoons by Shermund and Day, or whether they indeed used a gag writer at all, please come forward and tell the epicurean world what we need to know.

Surely Peter Arno produced far more than his share of unsurpassed work throughout his career and Attempted Bloggery humbly begs to bring you more of it. I seek scans or photographs of original cartoon art by Arno as well as examples of rare and obscure published work from outside of the well-thumbed pages of The New Yorker. Please send me something that sizzles.

December 31, 2017 Update:  Peter Arno's original book cover illustration is in Harry's Bar, London.
Harry's Bar in London by Mark Birley
Image added May 7, 2020

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  1. Peter Arno's Sizzling Platter is one of my favorite collections. Can you imagine any publication featuring that brazen cover drawing in today's hyper-PC world? Sugar daddies and bimbos are no longer welcome in print, and we (cartoon aficionados) can only wistfully remember their era.