CBS Sunday Morning: Madeline 75 Years
Children’s books have a way of becoming timeless, which explains why children are still following the adventures of Madeline 75 years after her story was first published. Faith Saile reported on the character’s long and ageless existence.
Madeline, described as beguiling and identifiable thanks to her red hair and blue coat, first appeared in 1939. Nearly 14 million copies of her books have been sold since. “She’s an everygirl,” according to curator Jane Curley, who showed off an exhibition of the character at the New York Historical Society that celebrates the character’s 75th birthday.
Sunday Morning: Is Madeline French?
Curley told me something I did not know. “People think she’s French, and she’s not. She’s an American girl who happens to be in a French boarding school,” she said. Also, Miss Clavel is not a nun. Despite their scholastic setting, the action takes place as the children take adventures outside a classroom, meeting all manner of characters.
Creator Ludwig Bemelmans reportedly styled the character based on his wife, his mother, and his daughter. John Bemelmans Marciano, Ludwig’s grandson, believes that Ludwig may have put an autobiographical component into the works.
CBS Sunday Morning: Ludwig Bemelmans Madeline
Ludwig’s father left the family when Ludwig was just 5 years old. He was born in Austria in 1898, and did poorly in school. By age 16, he had to choose between reform school or leaving for America. He chose the latter, and worked as a busboy in New York City. Though he loved the hotel business, he spent a lot of his time pursuing his artistic passions on the side.
His work included a comic strip and magazine illustrations. By 1935, he married Madeline Freund, and the couple had daughter Barbara. At one point, they took a vacation to a French island, where a chance encounter with a young girl inspired something great.
Sunday Morning: Madeline & Jacqueline Kennedy
As John recalled, Ludwig was run over by an ambulance during that vacation. He found himself in a hospital bed, staring up at a crack in the ceiling that looked like a rabbit. Then a young woman walked around showing off her appendix scar to everyone. This later became a story in one of Ludwig’s books.
Ludwig’s first Madeline installment was a hit, and five more followed. Even Jacqueline Kennedy was a fan, and she wrote her a fan letter in 1961, leading to a friendship between the two. However, Ludwig passed away in 1962.
CBS Sunday Morning: Madeline Legacy
Madeline lives on in toys, cartoons, and movies. Also, 15 years ago, grandson John Bemelmans Marciano revived the series, with a new installment fulfilling a plan laid out by Jackie O. and Ludwig: Madeline at the White House.
“Kids haven’t changed, and she really captured the spirit of a particular kid,” John explained, pointing out her bravery. In a quick survey of young readers, this theory seemed to be proven true. Did you read Madeline as a child, or share the books with your own kids?