Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mr. Max Linder

I have been meaning to do this post for awhile, but I am lazy. That is the only excuse I can think of. That and it has a sad ending and those are such downers, ya know?

Max Linder. One of the silent screen's first clowns. His work inspired many silent film comics that are remembered today, yet he is relatively unknown. But, I am here to put my name on the list of people who know who he is and are trying to make sure his work is recognized for being as wonderful as it was.

Max Linder was born Gabriel-Maximilien Leuville on December 16, 1883 in Caverne, France. His parents owned a vineyard and hoped that one day young Max and his elder brother, Maurice, would join in on the family business. Unfortunately for the Linder parents, neither son was interested in that route. Maurice became a well known rugby player and Max began to show a fondness for the theatre at a young age.

When he was around 16 years old, he enrolled in a prestigious acting school and was soon getting praises for his comedic abilities. He began acting in the bigger productions put on by the school, even doing some dramatic roles, which he was also showing a lot of talent in.

It was around 1905 that Max started acting in bit parts in movies, still maintaining a more successful career on the stage. Some of his roles were in the famed director, Georges Meilies' films.

Interestingly, his start as a star in films happening on a happy accident. While working for Pathe', he took over acting roles for their main star who moved to a different company. The character he was going to be playing was a fancy dressing, dapper gentleman in a silk top hat, cane, the whole works. The 'obstacles' his character faced usually centered around his trying to woo women and getting into mishaps while trying to do so. The character was simply referred to as "Max."

Max's first onscreen appearance as the dapper "Max" was in 1907's, The Skater's Debut.

The film was not popular with audiences, so Max decided to pack and go to Italy to see what was cooking there. And wouldn't ya know, the same 'happy accident' happened there when Max went from small roles to leading roles after replacing another actor. He would appear in several different roles, including the Max character, and the studio found that the dapper gentleman was becoming the audience favorite.

During the years of 1909 and 1910, Max became a big star. He was popular in Europe and over in the states. He even had a movie theater named after him in Paris!

In 1911, Max's career screeched to a halt after he was bedridden due to appendicitis. A few months later, he returned to working both behind and in front of the camera. He was writing scripts and directing and had complete control over his films and it worked out really well for him.

The following year, Max had just come back from a tour of Europe and was fully aware of just how popular he was with fans. He told Pathe' that he wanted a raise...he wanted a million. And believe it or not, the studio gave it to him. It seemed like they were happy to oblige their biggest moneymaker, but behind closed doors, they called him "The Napoleon of the Cinema."

When World War I began, Max was eager to join up and help defend his country, but he was found physically unfit for battle. So, he did his part for the war effort by entertaining the troops and making movies, including a patriotic film in 1914 called The Second of August.

Max had concurred Europe, but now the States wanted this famous French comedian. Essanay came knocking and wanted him to sign a contract with them. He accepted and moved to the US in 1916. For curious reasons, his films didn't fair as well in the US as they did overseas. The only film that was somewhat well liked was Max and his Taxi.

With his plans in the US not going the way he wanted, he returned to France and began to make feature length films, the first being The Little Cafe. The film was popular in Europe, but once again, did not do well over in the US. He kept trying though, even forming a production company in Hollywood. It was there he made one of his most well known pictures, Seven Years Bad Luck. But, what is considered great now was not seen as all that much back in 1921.

Charlie Chaplin and Max

It was shortly thereafter that he decided to hang up his silk top hat and do away with the dapper Max character.  He instead wanted to try and do a satire of a Douglas Fairbanks-esque persona. The film was The Three Must-Get-Theres and was hailed by Fairbanks himself and also by Linder's new friend, Charlie Chaplin. Once again, those persnickety US audiences didn't like it though.

Back to France it was, and another non-comedic film role that was hailed by critics but wasn't allowed to be released for a few years in the US and his home country due to copyright issues. I'm telling ya, his career arc must have resembled a roller coaster!

Not surprisingly, the back and forth of his career and other issues began to wear down on Max's psyche and he started to suffer from severe bouts of depression. It didn't help matters that he met and married a woman who clearly also had some mental issues. Max had known Helene "Jean" Peters since they were children and they finally married in 1923. They had a daughter named Maud Max "Josette" Linder a year later.

Why do I say his wife had emotional problems too? Well, because the couple had a suicide pact agreed upon the year their daughter was born. They made an attempt at it but were discovered and were revived. The second time around, they achieved success.

Max Linder passed away on October 31, 1925 alongside his wife, Jean. The couple had attended a performance at the theater earlier that evening, returned home, drank Veronal (a sleeping agent), and cut their wrists. No one knows why they had decided on the suicide pact.

They were buried at the St. Loubes Cimetiere in Saint-Loubes, France.

Maud Linder was only a baby when her parents killed themselves, so her care was taken over by Jean's parents. They raised her without telling her who her father was or what had really happened to her parents. It wasn't until she was around twenty years old that her grandparents finally told her how her parents died. They must have left out how famous her father was though because it wasn't til years later that she saw his name on a movie poster and saw that he had been quite a star. She started to devote her life to making sure her father and his work was remembered and even created two documentaries (one in 1963, the other in 1983) talking about his life and his movies. She also wrote a book about him in 1992. Incredibly, Maud is still alive today and lives in France.

Charlie Chaplin and Max

Charlie Chaplin became a great friend and admirer of Max. During his various stays in the US, Max and Charlie would go out on the town together and help each other with script writing. When Charlie read after his friend's suicide, he closed his studio for the day and dedicated his next picture to him, calling himself "Max's disciple."

He made around 500 films, but only some 80 titles have been known to survive.

"He calls me his teacher, but I have been the happy one, to take lessons from his school." ~~ Max Linder on Charlie Chaplin

"When we do a film, I tell my story to my actors; I explain how I want them to behave; we rehearse once; and we shoot." ~~ Max Linder


  1. I know of Max Linder. I read about him years ago and always felt so sad about him and that he is not well known as he should be. I only saw one picture of his and I thought it was quite funny. I always thought he is another opportunity that the film world has missed even now. If they made a bio pic of Max i would see it in a heart beat. Glad you wrote about him!

  2. I forget where it was I first heard about him, but I do remember it was through a documentary either about silent film comedians or silent films in general, but they covered him a bit as the "first" silent film comedian that paved the way for others. I was intrigued...especially because he was a dapper looking guy! And then to read about his horrible death, ugh, so sad.
    When I talked about who to write about on my blog on Facebook, I had a few people saying Max, so it was cool to see that he wasn't that forgotten.

  3. Hi Jessica, though your post is quite interesting, there are a few (minor) errors.

    Max Linder never act in Melies movies. It is a common mistake : Andre Deed, a famous comedy actor at the same time started by acting for Melies, and many people mistake him for Linder. Same mistake : Andree Deed worked in Italy... But Linder never did.

    Also Linder "did not have a theater named after him". He opened his own theater in 1919 and named it "Max Linder". This theater, in Paris, still exists, and is now named "Max Linder Panorama".

    His movie carreer started in 1905. He was acting in cabarets at that time, and was recommended by Louis Gasnier at Pathé, hoping he could make easy money.

    In 1911, Linder was not bedridden due to appendicitis. It was in 1910, and he was acting in a cabaret called La Cigale, and he badly fell down during the show, severely injured.

    Linder did not make his part during WWI by entertaining the troops or making movie. He was the driver of officers, and was also a courier, bringing intelligence service secrets messages on the battlefield. During one of his missions, he had to stay hidden under a bridge in ice water for a night, and was severely injured. It was in 1916, and while he was recovering in hospital, Georges K. Spoor from Essanay offering him a contract in US, in order to replace Chaplin, who had just left for Mutual.

    Linder did not feel comfortable in the US, and directed only 3 movies of the 12 he was contractually supposed to direct. His health was not quite good, and he moved back to France.

    1. Thank you very much for the extra info and correct information, Christophe! I will update Max's entry soon.
      Thank you again!