Cecile de Brunhoff, the inspiration for Babar, the enchanting little elephant whose adventures have captivated generations of children in book, onscreen and on TV, died in Paris April 7 after suffering a stroke two days before. She was 99.
She invented the tale of a little elephant as a bedtime story for her boys in 1931. They in turn told their father, painter Jean de Brunhoff, who illustrated the story and filled in details, naming the elephant Babar and creating Celeste, Zephir and the “Old Lady,” who takes care of young Babar after his mother is killed.
Before “The Story of Babar” was published, Cecile de Brunhoff insisted that her name be removed from the book because she thought her role too minor, according to publishers Harry N. Abrams Inc.
A pianist, she was a graduate of the prestigious Paris music college, the Ecole Normale de Musique. Jean de Brunhoff died of tuberculosis in 1937, aged 37. His eldest son, Laurent, carried on Babar’s adventures, completing two books unfinished by his father and eventually devoting himself full-time to Babar, publishing dozens of books of his own.
Cecile de Brunhoff is survived by her three sons, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.