Saturday, June 29, 2019

Peter Arno Uncovered

I bought my copy of Peter Arno's Circus (1931) for $12.50 in late 1988. The cartoon collection was pushing sixty then, so it was not surprising if it was a bit beaten up with no dust cover in sight. That was really not a concern of mine at the time. I was happy enough to add it to my library in its imperfect state and to bring my Arno collection closer to completion. Besides, I wouldn't have known how to find a copy with a proper dust jacket if I'd wanted to. Before the internet, pretty much it either came your way or it didn't.

Now the book is pushing ninety and that missing original dust jacket is something of a collector's item. It's a real curiosity today too, a relic of the long-defunct circus sideshow. The cover depicts a circus "fat lady" named Fatima, the exotic name taken, apparently, from a song in the 1921 stage musical "Love Birds" by Sigmund Romberg which punned on the name's first syllable. Arno's stock Timid Man character, walking with his rail-thin wife, turns to contemplate the bountiful mysteries of Fatima, who regards him in turn with an alluring smile. That ability of Arno's to let us read his characters' unspoken desires is truly uncanny!

A copy of the book is currently offered for $250 on AbeBooks by Between the Covers. It includes the dust jacket and three additional Arno prints which do not appear in the book and which may have been provided by the publisher. The price is twenty times what I paid for my copy in 1988.
Peter Arno
AbeBooks Listing Retrieved June 28, 2019

"Fat, Fat Fatima" from "Love Birds" (1921)
Music by Sigmund Romberg
Lyrics by Ballard MacDonald
José Ferrer as Sigmund Romberg
From "Deep in My Heart" (MGM, 1954)
Directed by Stanley Donen

Arno knew his audience connected the name Fatima to the sideshow "fat lady." A 1928 Arno cartoon depicts a magic act at a circus sideshow. Signage across the background advertises "Fattest Woman—La Belle Fatima."
"Fake, ain't it?"
Peter Arno
The New Yorker, May 8, 1928, page 13

Reader and long-time contributor David from Manhattan has sent along three images of the flap copy:
Photo by David from Manhattan
Photo by David from Manhattan
Photo by David from Manhattan

Note:  I wish to extend an apology to every woman in the world named Fatima.

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