Actor Biography

MAX LINDER

Born: 1883, Saint Loubés, France

Died: 1925, Paris, France

Notable Films: The Little Cafe (1919), Seven Years Bad Luck (1921), Be My Wife (1921), The Three Must-Get-Theres (1922)

Max Linder (Gabriel-Maximilien Leuvielle) entered films in 1905, during their earliest period. His short comedies, made for film studio Pathe Frére and highly successful throughout Europe, brought him fame and fortune. At his peak in 1911-1914, Linder was star, director and writer. His character, Max, was a dapper gentleman, wealthy, fashionably dressed, suave and self-assured, but liable to get into comical predicaments.

In 1914, at the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the French army and served as a dispatch driver for a few months before being dismissed, due to illness. After leaving the army, Linder entertained the troops and continued to make comedy shorts.

In 1916, George K. Spoor, one of the principles of the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago and California, offered Linder a contract to make films in the US. Linder accepted and moved to America. His first films for Essanay were Max Comes Across (1916), with a scenario based on his voyage to New York, and Max Wants a Divorce (1916). American audiences ignored these films. His third film, Max and His Taxi (1917), made in Hollywood, was moderately successful. While in Hollywood, Linder met and became friends with Charlie Chaplin who admired his comic abilities. Essanay, however, was in financial difficulty and cancelled his contract.

Linder returned to war-torn France. Discouraged and depressed, he did not make any films in 1918. In 1919, brightened by the end of the war, he made his first feature, The Little Café. The film did well in Europe but was unseen in the US. The European success of The Little Café encouraged Linder to try Hollywood again. He formed his own production company, Max Linder Productions, to make feature length films. His first two films, Seven Years Bad Luck (1921) and Be My Wife (1921), featuring the "Max" character, were unsuccessful in the US. He dropped "Max" and became "Dart-In-Again" for The Three Must-Get-Theres (1922), a satire of Douglas Fairbanks' The Three Musketeers (1921). Praise by Fairbanks and Chaplin did not bring the public to see the film, and it was not a success. In Linder's biography in World Film Directors, Volume 1 (1895-1945), by John Wakeman, Linder is quoted saying to director Robert Florey, "The public is mildly amused by my situations…but where were the explosions of laughter that we hear when Charlie's on the screen?"

Linder gave up and returned once more to France. He made three final films, starring as "Max" or "Max Linder", but was plagued by depression. He did not feel funny anymore. In 1923, he married a much younger woman and became a father at age 40. A loving wife and baby daughter did not alleviate his feelings of depression and hopelessness. For months in 1925, Linder was telling friends that he had nothing more to live for, could not work, and had lost all hope; in November, Linder and his wife carried out a suicide pact (as reported in The New York Times in November, 1925).

Although he is little known in the US, Linder is remembered and respected in France. In 2013, New York-based French Institute Alliance Française held an important retrospective of his films. A report on the retrospective was published in New Yorker magazine as "A Star is Reborn: Max Linder at French Institute Alliance Française" (December 2, 2013).