Ludwig Bemelmans (April 27, 1898-October 1, 1962), Austro-American essayist, humorist, novelist, artist, and author of books for children, was born in Meran, in the Tyrol, in territory that was then Austrian and is now Italian. In 1914, he arrived in New York with letters of introduction to managers of several large hotels. Having worked his way up to a position as a waiter at the Ritz-Carlton, he left to enlist in the United States Army in 1917. Eventually he opened his own restaurant; only in 1934 did he turn to writing, at the suggestion of a friend in publishing who, noticing the whimsical paintings with which he covered the walls of his apartment, urged him to undertake a children's book. Hansi, the first of Bemelmans' fifteen books for children, beguiled most reviewers with its simple watercolor illustrations and nostalgic story of two children and their dog in the Austrian Tyrol. His greatest success, however, was Madeline, a rhymed picture book about a Parisian schoolgirl who becomes the envy of her classmates when her appendix is removed. Indeed, the Madeline books, of which there were five, remain the work that Bemelmans is primarily remembered for. The inspired amateurishness of the illustrations and the sophisticated doggerel verses have been an influence on later juvenile literature. Madeline's Rescue, the second book in the series, was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1953. Bemelmans claimed to have no imagination, and all his books were the more or less direct product of his experience. He described his life as a restaurateur in Life Class and Hotel Splendide, his travels to Ecuador and Italy in The Donkey Inside and Italian Holiday, and his stint as a Hollywood screenwriter in the novel Dirty Eddie. At the time of his death he was working on the story of his childhood. Bemelmans was a genial satirist and lover of life, but a serious intent often underlay his humor, especially in his novels. A case in point is Blue Danube, a fanciful story set on an island of the Danube, the comedy of which is very much clouded by the appearance of a band of odious Nazis. A somewhat more successful novel was Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, concerning the unusual journey of an elderly Ecuadorian general from his villa in Biarritz to his home in South America. From the time of his marriage to Madeline Freund in 1935 (they had one daughter, Barbara) until his death in New York of pancreatic cancer, Bemelmans traveled, painted, and generally wrote a book or two a year. Reviewing his posthumous novel, the comic love story The Street Where the Heart Lies, Burling Lowrey in Saturday Review called Bemelmans "a superb craftsman with a sure eye for atmospheric detail and a supremely accurate ear for the speech of Adult Innocents madly in love with the unattainable.. . He was a complete original, with an absolutely unique temperament and view toward the world."Read more Read less
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