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Sketches of life: children's book author Bemelmans

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Tell Them It Was Wonderful: Selected Writings by Ludwig Bemelmans, edited with an introduction by Madeleine Bemelmans, foreword by Norman Cousins. New York: Viking. 291 pp. $19.95. Danke sch"on to Viking for bringing back Bemelmans.

He was the very definition of gem"utlich : Cozy, genial, warm, lots of fun, and a charming companion.

Perhaps best known for his captivating ``Madeline'' books for children, he drew and painted as well as he wrote. (Indeed, he must have drawn with a sharpened chocolate 'eclair, because his drawings look good enough to eat!)

This collection is autobiographical and chronological. He was a native of the Tirol and grew up in the operatic world of Regensburg in old Bavaria. Coming to this country in 1914 at the age of 16, he became one more talented immigrant to enrich our laughter and our literature.

Training to be a waiter in a New York hotel gave him his first good look at patrons and fellow employees, potted plants, and what happens when you drop a loaded tray.

Discipline in the hotel was more old country than American, but he soon felt American enough to enlist in the United States Army of World War I.

As his success grew he went to Hollywood as a screenwriter.

He was good enough there to anger the great Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by writing an ever so slightly unflattering novel of that novel place (``Dirty Eddie'').

And of course he was a superb travel writer.

There is a sigh here and there between the laughs, a gentle melancholy mist in the sunlight and shadows of his stories.

Renew his acquaintance, or meet a new friend.

Gene Langley was a longtime cartoonist for the Monitor.

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