TELL THEM IT WAS WONDERFUL: Selected Writings by Ludwig Bemelmans by Madeleine--Ed. Bemelmans

TELL THEM IT WAS WONDERFUL: Selected Writings by Ludwig Bemelmans

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Instantly winning, miraculous autobiographical fact and fiction, by the noted memoirist, novelist, humorist, painter, children's writer and illustrator; the selections are arranged chronologically, with 25-line illustrations; edited with an introduction by Madeleine Bemelmans, the author's wife and heroine of the Madeline books. Since his death in 1962 his adult books have slowly gone out of print or become harder to find. This anthology, concentrating on the major segments of his life rather than snippets from every little work, could not be more welcome. Bemelmans was born in 1898 in the Alpine village of Tirol. He wrote to a friend, ""I have forgotten so much of youth and much of it was not experienced. In me a whole portion of it is missing--it is like a floor in a house where there is no furniture."" How can this square with his memories of being a Tirolean child of four in ""Swan Country""?: "". . .a setting like the scenery for a Viennese operetta. A place in which, a plot in which nothing violent would happen. The decor was in pastel colors. . . In it people walked about in lovely costumes. There was music everywhere. Men in uniforms, women who were elegant. . . Like the pages of a children's book, the days were turned and looked at, and the most important objects in this book were the sun, the moon and the stars; people, flowers and trees."" Scandalously, catastrophically, his father and mother divorced, his father going to America. Later, at 16, after working in hotels and restaurants, Bemelmans himself went to America, where his father failed to fetch him from Ellis Island on Christmas Day. During WW I he served in the army (never leaving the States), later designed sets for a Broadway play, failed as a comic-strip artist. His blended fact/fiction memories of hotel days are sublime, as in his description of the child piccolo, an institution in all European restaurants: ""His head barely reached above the table; his ears are red and stand out, because everybody pulls them."" This boy's jobs, from sunup to sundown, are utterly endless. ""And when one sees somewhere in a cheap restaurant, say in a beer hall in Coney Island, one of those old waiters who are known as 'hashers,' leaning on a chair, with ugly, lightless eyes and a dead face that is filled with misery and meanness, one is seeing that little boy grown old, with flat crippled feet on which he has dragged almost to the end of his useless life his dead childhood."" Not to be missed herein are Bemelmans' stories of being a Hollywood scriptwriter for Louis B. Mayer. Delight, hilarity, homesickness and similar human foibles raised to high art.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking