Marcel Marceau
Tu Vas Nous Manquer,
an Ode to Marcel Marceau

By thepoetryman

As in silent motion
white faced petals
polish our living

nestled near, ready to rise
and outshine the sorrow
etched upon our face;
hate, that rusty nail
on the floor of hell piercing
the naked feet of our foul specter.

As in silent motion
dream’s painted face
fetches our melody…

Je dois y aller maintenant.

© 2007 mrp/thepoetryman
* * *
Mime Legend Marcel Marceau
passed away at 84
Marcel Marceau, the master of mime who transformed silence into poetry with lithe gestures and pliant facial expressions that spoke to generations of young and old, has died. He was 84.

Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, Marceau breathed new life into an art that dates to ancient Greece. He played out the human comedy through his alter-ego Bip without ever uttering a word.

Offstage, he was famously chatty. "Never get a mime talking. He won't stop," he once said.

A French Jew, Marceau escaped deportation to a Nazi death camp during World War II, unlike his father who died in Auschwitz. Marceau worked with the French Resistance to protect Jewish children, and later used the memories of his own life to feed his art.

He gave life to a wide spectrum of characters, from a peevish waiter to a lion tamer to an old woman knitting, and to the best-known Bip.
* * *
Marcel Marceau Remembered

Marcel Marceau, the legendary master of mime, died September 22 at age 84. Born Marcel Mangel to a Jewish family in Strasbourg, France, Marceau escaped the Nazis, joined the French Resistance and worked as a liaison to General Patton’s army. In 1946 he began studying acting in Paris, where he quickly established his career. The following excerpt was taken from a 2001 interview with Marceau by freelance journalist Jeremy Josephs:
I was once asked about my “Jewish sensitivity,” to which I replied that I would prefer to discuss human sensitivity. Jews are sensitive, like other people, but in the modern world religion should not be so high up [in] the order of the day. I was brought up in a Jewish home, but I was brought up to be human, not fanatical, which is something that I don’t appreciate at all. I learned to become a humanist, and not to dwell on the differences between Jews and Christians.

I must be honest and tell you that I do feel slightly uncomfortable with people dwelling on this Jewish aspect of my life. I have the greatest respect for the sufferance of the Holocaust — my father died in Auschwitz — so I am perfectly well aware of what happened. But this did not make me superior to other people.

I don’t want to be part of a community. I want to be part of the world. I have never been a victim of antisemitism — if you put to one side my war-time experience. That said, I am lucky not to have been sent into a concentration camp. I produced false papers, I took Jewish children to Switzerland when I was a teenager… and [after the war] I went to drama school with Etienne Decroux. But I never denied that I was Jewish. I wanted to give my art to the people.

The memory of the Holocaust is so important though. The 20th century was the most criminal century. Despite this, it has been a great century too. There is a balance between good and evil. But I am happy that the memory of the Holocaust is kept alive, so that such a tragedy can never begin again. But I would not put a Jew who died in the Holocaust above a Catholic soldier who died in the trenches of the First World War. All wars are criminal.
* * *
Silence falls on Marcel Marceau,
master of the mime

By John Lichfield

When great actors die, they are said to "fall silent". The mime artist Marcel Marceau had been delighting the world in silence for 60 years.

In Paris on Saturday, he, and his restless alter-ego "Bip", fell still. He was 84. Marceau was perhaps the most loved and internationally admired of all French people. "Bip" – a pale, elastic-limbed clown with a striped shirt and limp red flower in his battered hat – was instantly recognisable from the United States to China.

"Bip" was inspired by the work of Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx and other early film stars. He also drew on – and revived – older, European traditions of silent theatre, such as the Italian Commedia dell'arte.

Marceau once suggested another, darker, reason for his wordless art. He was born into a French Jewish family in 1923. His father, Charles Mangel, a butcher, was deported from France in 1944 and died in Auschwitz concentration camp.

"The people who came back from the camps were never able to talk about it," he once said. "My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence."

The French Prime Minister, François Fillon, said yesterday: "A talent for telling stories without words conferred on Marcel Marceau a rare gift: the ability to speak to everyone, with no barriers of language or culture." The Culture Minister, Christine Albanel, said Marceau's "poetry and tenderness" had inspired performers in other theatrical disciplines for more than half a century.

Marceau claimed that mime was able to convey a more profound, or at least more universal, message than words. "Pantomime is a hypnotic art," he said. "It is a universal language". Marcel Marceau was born in Strasbourg on 22 March 1923. He fled the Nazi invasion of Alsace with his family in 1940 and eventually joined a resistance movement near Limoges.

After the war, he joined Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art, and studied under the celebrated mime artist Etienne Decroux. Marceau first made his name with his own company in a tiny theatre on the Paris Left Bank – the Théatre de Poche, where "Bip" was born 60 years ago this year.

A tour of the United States in the mid-1950s – the first of many – turned him into an international celebrity. In 1967, he bumped into his boyhood hero, Charlie Chaplin, at Orly airport in Paris. He launched immediately into a pastiche of Chaplin's dance routine with a cane and then burst into tears and threw his arms around the ageing star.

One of Marceau's most loved sketches was "Public Garden," where "Bip" became in turn all the characters in a park, from a small boy playing football, to the park warden to an old lady knitting. At other times, he might be a bad-tempered waiter, an incompetent lion-tamer, a man chasing butterflies or a flirt at a cocktail party. In one of his later routines – he was making 250 appearance a year until the late 1990s – he mimed all the ages of mankind, from youth to death, in a couple of minutes.

Although Marceau never spoke on stage, he did once famously speak in a film. He appeared in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie in 1976 and said the only word: "non". Off stage, like one of his heroes, Harpo Marx, he was a very talkative man. "Never get a mime talking," he once said. "He won't stop." Marcel Marceau was a modest man, except when describing his own achievements. "I have a feeling that I did for mime what Segovia did for the guitar, what Casals did for the cello," he once said.

In the 1950s and 1960s, his company was the only troupe of mime artists in the world. He founded the Ecole Internationale de Mimodrame in Paris in 1978, which is still the only school of its kind. The pop star Michael Jackson based his moonwalk routine on Marceau's sketch of a man walking against the wind.

Marceau is survived by his four children.

* * *
Marcel Marceau,
Mime artist and teacher

Marcel Mangel (Marcel Marceau), mime: born Strasbourg, France 22 March 1923; Director, Compagnie de Mime Marcel Marceau 1949-64; Director, Ecole Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris Marcel Marceau 1978-2005; three times married (two sons, two daughters); died Paris 22 September 2007.

Wearing white trousers, a crumpled top hat adorned with a bedraggled red artificial flower and a striped vest with big buttons, and with a mask of a face that was able to suggest a thousand different impressions, the celebrated mime Marcel Marceau produced an astonishing variety of brief dramatic scenes and comical encounters with himself – The Cage, Walking Against the Wind, The Maskmaker, The Park, among others – and a gallery of unforgettable characters – head waiters, mad sculptors, matadors, dictators and ballet dancers. Of Marceau's moving depiction of the four ages of man, Youth, Maturity, Old Age and Death, one critic said, "He accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes."

He was born Marcel Mangel, the son of a butcher, in Strasbourg in 1923. He attended schools in Strasbourg and Lille and even as a child was a gifted mimic of animals and human beings. He enjoyed the silent movies of the 1920s, in which his favourite stars were Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Stan Laurel and above all Charlie Chaplin ("To us, he was a god"), whom he was to meet later in life. Their films were silent, so they had to express their feelings through mime.

When Marcel was 16, the Second World War began and in September 1939, Strasbourg had to be evacuated. For a while he took courses in painting and enamelling at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in Limoges, and he was to become a gifted illustrator of his own works. His father was deported to Auschwitz, where he later died, and Marcel joined the Resistance, moving to Paris. On one occasion, in 1944, as he was coming out of the Métro, he was stopped by two plain-clothes policemen who asked to see his papers. They were perfect fakes, for Marcel Mangel, as both a Resistance spy and a Jew, was on the wanted list. The narks kept examining his papers and looking at his face, while he stared back at them without batting an eyelid, showing no trace of fear. The men were baffled, and let him go. It was an early demonstration of the powers of mime.

In 1945, he began attending Charles Dullin's famous school of dramatic art in the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, where he also followed classes given by Etienne Decroux, who had invented the system of "mime corporel" – corporeal mime. It became the basis for Mangel's own art of facial and bodily control. One of his fellow students was Jean-Louis Barrault, who appreciated his exceptional talents as both actor and mime. Mangel became a member of Barrault's own company and was cast in the role of Arlequin in the "mimodrama" Baptiste, a role Barrault had made famous in the 1945 film Les Enfants du Paradis.

Mangel was such a success that Barrault encouraged him to present his own mimodrama, "Praxiteles and the Golden Fish" (1946), at the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt. Its popularity made Mangel decide to embark upon the career of a mime. The stage name he chose was Marcel Marceau, taken from a line in a poem by Victor Hugo about a great general, Marceau-Desgraviers. But the character he created was "Bip".

Marceau borrowed Bip's name from the character of Pip in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations and indeed Bip resembled the wan-faced waifs of Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby. He had the woebegone orphan look of children in early silent movies, like Jackie Coogan in The Kid or Oliver Twist.

"Born in the imagination of my childhood," Marceau once wrote of his greatest success, "Bip is a romantic and burlesque hero of our time. His gaze is turned not only towards heaven, but into the hearts of men."

Marceau's scenarios for his sketches were minimal, given body by his weird physical agility and an acute sense of "scenic time". In 1949 he started his own mime company at the tiny Théâtre de Poche in Montparnasse. Its first performance, in 1951, was a mime drama based on Gogol's tale The Overcoat. It was such a popular success that Marceau enlarged the company and produced classic period mime dramas including Pierrot de Montmartre (1952) and the more ambitious Le Mont de Piété ("The Pawn Shop", 1956).

But unlike the "straight" theatre, mime in France has never enjoyed official financial sponsorship, so Marceau had on occasion to abandon his company and start to make a living on tour as Bip in celebrated solo turns.

He toured Europe for eight years. His big break in America came in 1955-56 and Marcel Marceau and mime became inextricably linked in the public mind across the world.

"Americans are like big children – they never lose their sense of amazement and wonder," he once said of his transatlantic fans. "I show them something they have never seen before."

Marceau's beautiful Bip Hunts Butterflies had obviously influenced the great ballet dancer Jean Babilée when in the 1950s I saw him dancing in London in the ballet Le Papillon. Bip toured the whole world, to universal acclaim. He enchanted the Japanese, who after the war were still trying to learn foreign languages. They adored Bip because he was able to express every human feeling without words, and when I arrived in Japan in 1959 the Japanese were still under his spell.

By the end of his life, by Marceau's reckoning he had toured in 65 countries. He gave a rare touch of originality to television shows and appeared in several films, including the cult sci-fi adventure Barbarella (1968), starring Jane Fonda (with Marceau in the role of Professor Ping) and Mel Brooks's Silent Movie (1976), in which Marceau spoke the only line (in fact the only audible word), "Non!"

The list of Marceau's prizes and academic honours is enormous. He was an Officier de la Légion d'honneur, Grand Officier de l'Ordre nationale du Mérite, Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres de la Republique Française, and received honorary doctorates from American universities including Princeton, Michigan and Columbia. Bip received a "Molière d'honneur" in Paris in 1999. And the city of Paris finally endowed the art of mime and Marcel Marceau with enough money to run a permanent school there.


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