April 30, 1898|
Meran, Austria-Hungary (now Italy)
|Died||October 1, 1962
New York City, USA
|Resting place||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Citizenship||United States (from 1918)|
|Genre||Children's picture books|
|Notable works||Madeline series|
|Notable awards||Caldecott Medal
Ludwig Bemelmans (April 27, 1898 – October 1, 1962) was an Austria-Hungary-born American writer and illustrator of children's books and an internationally known gourmet. He is known best for the Madeline picture books. Six were published from 1939 to 1961; a seventh was discovered after his death and published posthumously in 1999.
Bemelmans was born to the Belgian painter Lambert Bemelmans and the German Frances Fischer in Meran, Austria-Hungary (now Italy). His father owned a hotel. He grew up in Gmunden on the Traunsee in Upper Austria. His first language was French and his second German.
In 1904, his father left the family for Ludwig's governess, after which his mother took Ludwig and his brother to her native city of Regensburg, Germany. Bemelmans had difficulty in school, as he hated the German style of discipline. He was apprenticed to his uncle Hans Bemelmans at a hotel in Austria, where he reportedly shot and seriously wounded a waiter. Given the choice between reform school and emigration to the United States, he chose the latter.
He spent the next several years working at hotels and restaurants in the US. In 1917, he joined the U.S. Army but was not sent to Europe because of his German origins. He did become an officer, and was promoted to Second Lieutenant. He writes of his experiences in the Army in the book, My War With the United States. In 1918, he became a US citizen.
In the 1920s, Bemelemans tried to become an artist and painter while working at hotels, but had substantial difficulties. His cartoon series The Thrilling Adventures of the Count Bric a Brac was dropped from the New York World after six months. He associated with Ervine Metzl, a commercial artist and illustrator who is variously described as Bemelmans's friend, "agent", and "ghost artist".
In the early 1930s Bemelmans met May Massee, the children's book editor at Viking Press, who became a sort of partner. He began to publish children's books, beginning with Hansi in 1934. He published the first Madeline book in 1939; after being rejected by Viking, it was published by Simon and Schuster.
In 1953, he fell in love with a small bistro in Paris, La Colombe in the Ile de la Cité, and bought it. He painted murals therein and owned the place for two years before selling it to Michel Valette, who converted it into a notable cabaret.
Bemelmans also wrote a number of adult books, including travel and humorous works, as well as movie scripts. The latter included Yolanda and the Thief. While spending time in Hollywood, he became a close friend of interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl.
A mural on the walls of the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar in New York City, Central Park, is his only artwork on display to the public. He painted the children's dining room on Aristotle Onassis's yacht Christina (now the Christina O), for the young daughter of the magnate, Christina Onassis.
Each Madeline story begins: "In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines... the smallest one was Madeline." The girls are cared for by Miss Clavel. She is likely a nun, as some French orders called themselves Madames, particularly that of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, after which this convent school seems to be modeled; and "Mrs." would not be an appropriate equivalent in English. Some have argued Miss, or Mademoiselle, or Madame Clavel's apparel looks more like that of a nurse (although why a nurse is working in what appears to be a Paris convent school is not explained. Or is it an orphanage?).
Other characters include Pepito, son of the Spanish ambassador, who lives next door; Lord Cucuface, owner of the house; and Genevieve, a dog who rescues Madeline from drowning in the second book. Bemelmans published six Madeline stories in his lifetime, five as picture books and one in a magazine. A seventh was discovered after his death and published posthumously:
- Madeline, 1939: in which Madeline has her appendix out.
- Madeline's Rescue, 1953: in which Madeline is rescued from drowning by a dog (later named Genevieve). Winner of the Caldecott Medal for U.S. picture book illustration
- Madeline and the Bad Hat, 1956: in which the "bad hat" is Pepito, the Spanish ambassador's son, whose cruel antics outrage Madeline.
- Madeline and the Gypsies, 1959: in which Madeline and Pepito have an adventure at a circus.
- Madeline in London, 1961: in which Pepito moves to London, and Madeline and the girls go to visit him.
- Madeline's Christmas, 1985: in which everyone in the house catches cold, except Madeline. (First published in McCall's in 1956).
- Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales, 1999: in which Madeline inherits a fortune from her American great-grandfather. The book also reveals Madeline's full name, Madeline Fogg.
- The first book, Madeline, was adapted as an Academy Award-nominated 1952 short animated cartoon directed by Robert Cannon for UPA and released by Columbia Pictures, also titled Madeline.
- Between 1990 and 1995, an animated Madeline series was made for television, with the narration in rhyming style read by Christopher Plummer.
- A live-action Madeline film based on several of the books appeared in 1998, directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer and starring Hatty Jones as Madeline, Frances McDormand as Miss Clavel, and Nigel Hawthorne as Lord Covington.
Bemelmans is said to have met his future wife, Madeleine "Mimi" Freund, as a model in Metzl's studio. They had one daughter, Barbara, and three grandchildren, Paul Marciano, James Marciano, and John Marciano.
Bemelmans died in New York of pancreatic cancer, aged 64. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 43, Grave 2618).
- "At the old Ritz–Carlton the best tables went to society snobs, not to celebrities". Food: Michèle Roberts. The New Statesmen. April 11, 2005. Page 57. Abstract at EBSCOhost:food; article available from some libraries.
- Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeleine Bemelmans (1985). Tell Them It Was Wonderful: Selected Writings. Viking. p. 159. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
- Fairfax M. Cone (1969). With All Its Faults: A Candid Account of Forty Years in Advertising. Little, Brown. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
- Ron Barrett (1989). Sally Holmes Holtze, ed. Sixth book of junior authors & illustrators. H. W. Wilson. p. 25.
- St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the order
- Laura Lee (2001). The Name's Familiar II. Pelican Publishing Co. p. 25. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- Jacobs, Deborah L. (November 27, 2013). "Madeline And The Family Business". Retrieved July 19, 2014.
- "The Man Who Dreamed Up Madeline", Smithsonian Magazine
- Ludwig Bemelmans at the Internet Movie Database
- Ludwig Bemelmans at the Arlington National Cemetery
- Ludwig Bemelmans at Library of Congress Authorities — with catalog records