Ludwig Bemelmans (1898 – 1962)

Ludwig Bemelmans was an Austro-Hungarian born American writer most famous for his Madeline children's books.

Born April 27, 1898 in Meran, Austria-Hungary (now Italy), his father was a Belgian painter, and his mother German; Bemelmans first language was French, and his second German. When he was just 6 years old his father left the family for another woman, leaving his mother and his governess pregnant. The governess took her life, while his mother moved Ludwig and his brother to Germany. In Germany Ludwig had trouble in school, and with authority, shooting a waiter who had whipped him during an apprenticeship. To avoid reform school he emigrated to the United States. When his father, who lived in New York, failed to meet him at the docks 16 year old Ludwig struck out on his own, finding employment at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he worked for 15 years - experiences that were evident later in his writing about hotels and restaurants.

In 1917 he joined the Army, although he didn't serve in WWI because of his German citizenship. In 1918 he became a US citizen. He pursued a career painting and drawing but did not meet much success.

In the 1930s he began to write and illustrate children's books, Madeline being published by Simon & Schuster in 1939 after being rejected by Viking, the publisher that had published his earlier work Hansi in 1934. Madeline's first appearance was as a minor character in his 1936 book The Golden Basket, which won a Newbery Honor Award. The first Madeline book won a Caldecott Honor, while Madeline's Rescue, published in 1953, won the Caldecott Medal in 1954.

Bemelmans also wrote nine adult books including My War With the United States (1937) about his military experiences in WWI, La Bonne Table: Excerpts and essays involving food and drink (1964), (most of his books involved food, travel and/or women) and four novels. He wrote for hollywood, including one script that was made into a movie, Yolanda and the Thief (1945), starring Fred Astaire.

He also pursued some painting, including illustrating 30 covers of the New Yorker magazine, and doing commercial work for Jell-O, lard and candy bars. A mural titled "Central Park" can still be seen in the bar of the Carlyle Hotel in New York. He also painted a mural on Aristotle Onassis's yacht.

Bemelmans died in New York City on October 1, 1962, of pancreatic cancer.

Books by Ludwig Bemelmans