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, best known for the Madeline series of picture books.
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".
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).
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.
The book series have since been adapted into animated cartoons, the first being a 1952 short directed by Robert Cannon for UPA and released by Columbia Pictures, and a 1998 live-action film starring Hatty Jones in the title role. In the 1990s, educational software based on the Madeline series for Microsoft Windows and Macintosh computers were developed and published by Creative Wonders.
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).