Had Love, Health, Fame, Wealth – and Wanted Death
Puzzling Mystery of Why "Joyous Max" Linder, the Charlie
Chaplin of Europe, Killed Himself in a Paris Hotel and
Took His Beautiful Young Bride With Him in the
Strangest of Death Pacts
Max Linder in one of the typical merry moods which made him famous and which, according to a French psychologist, were always tinged with apprehension and horror
LOVE, health, fame, wealth—those are the four great prizes for which men have striven and struggled with every energy of their minds and bodies since the world began. To win even one or two of them is thought to be enough reward to make life well worth living and the rare man who is able to capture them all is considered the most fortunate of mortals.
This is what makes the recent double suicide pact which Max Linder, the celebrated movie star, and his beautiful young wife carried out a human enigma that puzzles psychologists and medical scientists and those practical minded persons who call themselves students of human nature quite as much as it does the sorrowing families and friends of the ill-fated couple.
For Max Linder, who killed himself the other day and persuaded his girl wife to let him take her to the grave along with him, had securely in his grasp not merely one of the world's four great prizes, but all four of them.
He had love.
The young beauty who died with him had given him her heart in the face of the sternest parental opposition. She clung devotedly to him through all his efforts to fight off the mysterious something which made all life's triumphs seem as trivial as Christmas tree ornaments. In her last conscious moments, as her life streamed out through the gashes he had cut in her wrists, she flung her arms around him and pressed him to her heart.
He had health.
It is true that he had been wounded while serving in the trenches, but physicians declare that his war injuries cannot explain the intense dissatisfaction with life which made him so eager for death. Linder was a man of vigorous constitution, as his numerous difficult and perilous stunts in the movies had repeatedly proved. Countless other war veterans, less strong of mind and body than he was in the beginning, have survived injuries far worse than his and are leading useful and happy lives.
He had fame.
In Europe he was almost as well known and as worshipfully regarded as our own Chaplin, Pickford and Lloyd. Wherever he went people were always turning their heads and pointing their fingers and saying, "That's 'Joyous Max'—Max Linder, you "know—the famous fanny man of the movies."
He was wealthy.
As long ago as 1913, before he had gone permanently into the movies, he was drawing $240 a night from the Winter Garden, Berlin's leading vaudeville theatre. A movie contract made within the next few months gave him a salary of $70,000 a year. Later he earned a great deal more than that and, although not at all miserly, he slaved a large part of his earnings. Only a short time before his death he bought a magnificent Paris mansion.
With love, health, fame and wealth securely his own what could it have been that Max Linder lacked to make him want to continue living and to give him the contentment and joy most men would have found in such circumstances as his?
That is the question which baffles everybody who has pondered its puzzling complexities and contradictions. The night before the tragedy Linder had seemed in unusually good spirits. Early the next day he and his wife were to leave with their eighteen-months-old baby to pass a few weeks at a friend's house in the country.
Ninette Peters Linder, who let her husband dose her with deadly drugs and slash the veins in her wrists and then lay willingly down to wait for death with him
Mrs. Linder's mother, Mrs. Peters, who was staying at the same hotel, became alarmed when she arose for the early breakfast that had been ordered and saw nothing of Ninette and Max. She went to their room and knocked. When no answer came the door was broken in and the grim tragedy was revealed.
On a blood-drenched bed lay the husband and wife, her arms affectionately twined about him. Both were in a dying condition. The gashes cut with a razor in their wrists were enough to have killed them, but it was found at the hospital to which they were hurried that to make death doubly sure they had taken several injections of morphine and drunk large draughts of veronal.
Ninette-Linder died seven hours later. Max survived nearly twice that length of time, but neither he nor his wife came out of coma produced by the powerful drugs and the loss of blood.
Thus was ended by his own hand the life of Max Linder—a life which millions of his fellowmen would have been glad to exchange for their own.
In the case of many men of genius such as Linder undoubtedly was suicide is often the result of a sudden impulse which seizes them in a moment of deep depression. But there is everything to show that Linder's act was carefully permeditated, planned weeks, months perhaps years before.
To intimate friends Linder had repeatedly hinted at suicide. Only last summer a friend snatched a loaded revolver from his hand just as he was pointing it at his temple.
In Vienna nearly two years ago, while Linder and his bride were on a pleasure trip, they were found unconscious in their hotel room. For hours their lives were despaired of. They had taken overdoses of a sleep-inducing drug.
Friends now recall that for several years Linder's moods had alternated between exhuberant joy and the deepest dejection. When they asked him about these sudden changes in him, he would say:
"I cant' help it. Sometimes a conviction of the futility of work and play—of love—of success—of life itself sweeps over me and I am filled with a desperate desire to be through with it all. Or, if live I must, I feel it would be better if I had neither fame nor wealth nor love—if I were only a blind cripple begging pennies in the streets."
Such were the moods of despondency which "Joyous Max" of the films, the real father of movie comedies, often revealed to his friends. Nobody took them at all seriously, for it seemed incredible that he could be weary of life.
Since his death it is recalled that for several years Linder had shown a liking for literature of a sort you would hardly expect a comedian to choose. He knew by heart many of the morbid poems of Baudelaire. In his trunk was found a well-worn and copiously marked volume of Nietzsche's famous work, "Thus Spake Zarathustra." And in a pocketbook he always carried was a copy of paragraphs from Nietzsche's essay on "Voluntary Death."
The dead movie star in one of the tragic roles, which now seem to have revealed his true self better than any of the comic ones that have made millions laugh
PARAGRAPHS FROM NIETZSCHE'S ESSAY ON "VOLUNTARY DEATH" FOUND IN THE LATE MAX LINDER'S POCKET BOOK
Many die too late, and some die too early. Yet strange soundeth the precept: "Die at the right time!"
Die at the right time: so teacheth Zarathustra.
To be sure, he who liveth at the right time, how could he ever die at the right time? Would that he might be born! Thus do I advise the superfluous ones.
But even the superfluous ones make much ado about their death, and even the hollowest nut wanteth to be cracked.
Every one regardeth dying as a great matter; but as yet death is not a festival. Nor yet have people learned to inaugurate the finest festivals.
The consummating death I show unto you, which becometh a stimulus and promise to the living.
His taste for movies and plays on the Speaking stage ran in a similar direction. He liked best those that dealt with tragedy and death and he often bemoaned the fact that movie producers think it so necessary for their dramas to have happy endings.
It was from a film play, it is believed that Linder got the idea for killing himself and his wife by severing the veins in their wrists.
Late in the summer Linder and his wife went to see the film version of Sienkiewicz's novel of life in ancient Rome, "Quo Vadis?" A friend who accompanied them remembers that the part of the drama which seemed to fascinate Linder more than any other was the scene where the slave girl, Eunice, and Petronius, the rich Roman, take their lives by cutting their veins.
"An excellent way to die," Linder remarked when the scene was over; "an excellent way. I must Remember that."
Although psychologists cannot explain any better than Linder's family and friends why he should have wanted to die and to take his wife along to the grave with him, they feel that a great comedian like Linder is more liable to be overcome by melancholia and driven to such a deed than other men.
According to their theories much of the world's laughter is due to the effort to hide or counteract emotions that have nothing of the comic about them—pity, anger, etc. They think that a comedian may often rise to his greatest funmaking heights simply because his heart is weighed down by a despondency, a sense of the futility of everything like that which oppressed Max Linder.
His comicalities are the drug he takes to dull other emotions.
"In the smile of Max Linder," says Professor Bouvet, the well-known psychologist, "I have always thought I could detect a tinge of apprehension, of fear, of actual horror. It was as if, in the moment of his greatest merriment, he was continuously haunted by the dread that some fearsome ghost was about to appear before his eyes."
From the position of the bodies and statements in letters left by the couple it is quite certain that Linder first cut the veins of his wife's wrists and then slashed his own. And there is strong evidence to show that the beautiful wife willingly agreed to her husband's double death plan and helped him carry it out.
Ninette Peters was only eighteen years old when she married Max Linder and he was over forty. On account of this difference in age the girl's mother vigorously opposed the marriage. But the lovers would not give each other up and finally they ran away and were married. (Washington Post, Dec. 13, 1925)