Made the World Laugh – Then Killed Himself
Max Linder, the French “Charlie Chaplin,” Kept
Millions of Movie Fans Merry But Couldn't
Find Enough Happiness to
Make His Own Life
MAX LINDER, known as the French "Charlie Chaplin," the funniest man in France and one of the best screen comedians in the world, thought life such a poor joke and a bore that he committed suicide, as the cables have already announced.
His wife so thoroughly agreed with him that she lay down by his side, opened her veins, too, and they slowly died together in the ancient Roman form of suicide. No doubt they chatted for a long time and compared symptoms until the final weakness silenced their tongues. At last they had a common experience that was new and interesting -- death. Then came the black-robed master comedian and whispered in their ears that joke of jokes, whatever it is, that gives all skeletons a broad grin.
Why did he do such a thing? Linder was rich, successful, at the top of his profession, married to the woman he loved and who loved him enough to die with him. This funny man, who was sought, envied, adored by everyone, died be cause he could not stand being a clown any longer.
It was bad enough in his working hours to do a thing he detested. But that would have been no cause for suicide if, when he washed of his funny make up and hung up his funny costumes, they would only have let him put away his reputation as a buffoon and be free to be his own real solemn self. This could never be. Everyone who met the great funmaker expected a free entertainment and felt snubbed and was indignant unless he kept them in roars of laughter.
As most people would give ten years of their lives to be able to be "the life of the party." nobody could see why Max Linder should not be delighted to entertain them. When the comedian begged, almost with tears in his eyes, for the privilege of being serious and talking sense, everyone thought he was like a musician waiting to be urged.
As nobody had any mercy on the man he developed eccentric habits, shunning society as much as possible. One invitation, however, he always accepted—a funeral. Some thought this a sign that he was morbid, others that it revealed an unsuspected vein of sentiment for people he had hardly met. To Linder, a funeral was a refuge and a rest, a chance to be as sad and solemn as he pleased with no fear that anyone would be indecent enough to ask him to start his clowning.
But business deals in France even more than in America are largely made in restaurants after much dining und wining, which each party fondly believes duns the other's business shrewdness. Linder was not only France's first moving picture celebrity, but her greatest, and pictures involve endless financing and refinancing and deals within deals. On every one of the occasions the suffering comedian was forced to keep the fat sides of some French capitalist shaking for hours at a time until finally he was ready to sign on the dotted line.
These financiers used to say that it really was a shame to pay Linder for his work when it was evidently just play for him. When they said that, Max used to laugh. It was not a sincere laugh and they did not quite see the point, but they always joined as people do when a genius laughs.
Finally came the time when Linder had accumulated such a fortune that he could pretty well finance his own productions. No more would he be obliged to laugh the capitalists out of every million francs that had to be raised. He would still continue to play the fool in the studio, but never again outside. At last life was going to be worth living. This was in 1914, and just then the shadow of the war god passed over Europe and all laughter stopped.
The examining officers found some physical defect in the comedian which barred him from the army. He was told that the best way be could help France would be to make a lot of money so he could be taxed. France, convulsed by the German Invasion, was now no place to make pictures, so he had to look elsewhere.
Across the water he saw America, rich, carefree, with no suspicion as yet that she was to be drawn into the fire Linder's reputation had spread to Hollywood, so just as his own land turned serious enough to suit even him, the unhappy funny man had to move to the gay and giggling moving picture capital of the world.
There he had to make new connections, new friends and prove to American capitalists that he was as funny as Charlie Chaplin — almost. This meant the dining, wining and side-splitting all over again. In Hollywood he met the real Charlie Chaplin and the two sad-faced laugh manufacturers became great friends, wandering off on long walks in which no note of levity disturbed their melancholy happiness.
Linder made pictures and added to his fortune. Among the successes, perhaps the best remembered is "The Three Must Get Theirs," a parody, of course, on "The Three Musketeers."
When the war was over, Linder returned to his native country. It was a sadder France, not quite so eager to be always laughing, and now he was a multi-millionaire, able to get what capital he needed without clowning for it. He arranged to make just one picture per year and outside of the hours in which he must be a buffoon before the camera, the rest of his life he would live for himself. Everyone would have to take him as he really was—take him or leave him. He swore a great oath to that effect and hoped to die if he ever broke it.
Looking into the future, Linder could see nothing ahead but a long life of well earned peace and serenity — and just then he fell in love and ruined everything. In the Chamonix Valley, he met little Jeanne Peters. The young lady was beautiful and much sought after, so the attentions of the French celebrity did not at all dazzle her nor her parents. Max found himself in competition with men younger, handsomer and richer. Many were of ancient lineage and some even had titles.
In the Movies Linder Was the Happy, Carefree Clown, the Graceful Lover and the Gay, Rollicking Blade – But His Real Life Was So Sorrowful He Determined to End It.
It was a steep game. Travelling in the crowd which followed the little beauty to the various fashionable resorts of Europe Linder found himself a piker. Some one always outshone him with a great steam yacht or a lordly chateau or by being the guest of royalty. The screen star, though a rich man, never could match any of these things; he was simply outclassed. The rivals were doing all these princely things to impress the girl and they did. Why should she notice Linder, who always played second fiddle?
She didn't at first. She just tolerated him as one more admirer, of which, of course, no woman can have too many. But he meant no more in the plans of her life than a chorus man in the plot of a musical comedy. Linder stuck along until he was hopelessly in passion's grip and did not care what happened to him if he could only somehow get that girl.
In this crazy condition, of course, he disregarded his vow never to clown except for the camera. The first time he tried it he knew he had a weapon that none of his rivals could match. Suddenly, as in his pictures, he dominated everybody. He was everything, they were nothing. It was just Max Linder and his audience, the girl.
The rivals did not like this reversal of things, but they had to invite this deadly man who always stole their shows from them because Jeanne insisted and they could not deny that no party was a success without him. Gradually the other suitors saw admiration in the girl's eyes turn to fascination and finally to love for this funny man.
What was the use, they thought, of contending with one who bent them with no effort or expense? Every party was his. The party might be on a rival's million-dollar floating palace or his three-million-dollar chateau, it made no difference, it was Linder's party because nobody listened to anyone else. The food the music, the scenery were only a background for the comedian. One by one the other candidates dropped out and Max saw that he was winning. He needed encouragement, for, though nobody suspected it, he was enduring a great strain.
Like a marathon runner he had his eye fixed on the goat, the end of the race, where at last he could drop down and rest. If he could only keep going at this pace until he got the girl to the altar — then— why then, of course, he had won the prize and would live happily ever after. In other words, he was reasoning just the way most women complain that their husbands have reasoned—that having once reached the altar, having caught their car, they flop down and rest. Of course this was not what Jeanne or any other girl ever wanted.
Jeanne's parents opposed the match. They did not see the joke that the comedian was unconsciously preparing for himself, but their practical minds thought that yachts and titles were more substantial assets than laughter, and they were right. Their opposition, however, only resulted in an elopement to Paris and a marriage which Linder's followers considered a national event.
During the honeymoon the comedian began to see the joke he had played on himself and his bride. He loved Jeanne as much as he had expected. It was the love of a lifetime. He would never love anyone else or be happy without her. She was just as much in love with him, but not with his real self, but that artificial clown self that he hated and despised and thought he was rid of.
Linder kept up the clowning during the honeymoon and then came the time to make his delayed and much overdue picture. This meant being a buffoon all day before the camera and then to go home to that eager and critical little audience of one, always demanding more, more from her clown. When they had been married less than a year the day came when the exhausted nerves of the comedian snapped.
The bride, to her consternation, saw him drop into his real, sombre, almost morose self. It seemed to her as if she were married to a stranger, as if she had married Mr. Jekyll and beheld him turn into the wretched Mr. Hyde. Jeanne was undergoing, in an aggravated form, what every wife is said to suffer at some time — the spectacle of her husband trying to rest after catching his car.
Shutting Themselves in Their Hotel Room, Linder and His Beautiful Wife Made Sure of Ending All by Swallowing Poison and Also Cutting the Arteries in Their Wrists.
There were scenes, bitter complaints. She said what every wife says: "You didn't neglect me like this before we were married. It was a pleasure to entertain me then." His answer, that he could no longer keep it up, did not satisfy her at all. If he still loved her it should be a pleasure to please her. This debate, which no doubt was invented by Adam and Eve, went on for a few months and then she left him. The great comedian now had exactly what he had always yearned for—peace and quiet, with no demands, nobody to say: "Laugh, clown, laugh!"
A month of this peace was all he could stand. Then he took the train to Chamonix, the place where he had first started to woo her and there he wooed her all over again. Like many another pair of true lovers, they could neither live with each other nor without, and as she could not understand what was the matter with him he had to promise to be his funny self that she loved forever more. Probably he knew that he could not make good, but his heart was starving and he knew he had to try.
So she came back and to outsiders and probably even to her everything seemed to be all right again. The funny man was funny all the time. The picture which be had stopped he now attacked with a fury of energy. It was the screen version of "Le Chasseur de Chez Maxim's," which ran at the Selwyn Theatre, in New York, under the title of "The Blue Kitten." At the same time he finished building a great home at Neuilly, just outside of Paris, and he and Jeanne stocked it with most expensive furnishings.
The house was ready, servants installed and waiting, the picture was within a week of being finished when without warning, something went wrong. The clown dropped his comedy mask again, Dr. Jekyll vanished and the gloomy Mr. Hyde appeared. Work at the studio stopped. The star would not go near the place nor could any one get him to talk business. This cost him a fortune. He had been promised a guarantee of $600,000 and an Italian syndicate had already paid a handsome advance which had to be refunded.
The great house was open. Its servants waited idly for the master and mistress that did not come and sent no word. Max Linder and his wife simply stayed in their room at the Baltimore Hotel, in Paris, for nearly a week, and to all queries on the telephone replied:
"Please do not bother us now. We are busy."
How were they busy? What had happened? The fountain of laughter had dried up again. Linder had faded once more and this time knew that it would be forever. At last she understood. She was in love with an artificial character that had now gone as completely as Dr. Jekyll when he finally vanished for good and all. As for the real man who remained, she never had loved him and never could. She had married sunshine and gotten the rain. He still loved her, but knew that she was as lost us if she were dead.
Both realized that they could neither live with each other nor without. Slowly they seem to have agreed that their lives were spoiled and that there was only one thing they could do together — die. During that week they made their preparations, settled their affairs, wrote letters of farewell and one night notified the hotel clerk that on no account must they be disturbed even the next morning.
But Madame Peters, the wife's mother, read something ominous between the lines of her daughter's letter and hurried down from her home in the Alps. She reached the hotel at ten in the morning and overrode the clerk's instructions not to disturb his prominent guests.
As neither the telephone nor knocking on the door brought response, a porter was ordered to break in, and the mother saw her daughter's body stretched beside that of Max. Each had cut the little arteries in the wrists at just the point where a doctor feels the pulse. Both were still breathing and taken to the hospital, but the surgeons found them beyond the aid of medical science.
On the table lay many letters saying that they were tired of life and also a little verse, scrawled in the funny man's handwriting, that may have been one of his last thoughts for an epitaph. It is translated as follows:
"Remember our virtues — forget our sins. Within each face a death's herd grins.''
(Pittsburgh Press, Jan. 3, 1926)