Famous Mime Marcel Marceau Passed Away at Age 84
Marcel Marceau, the great French mime who for seven decades mastered silence and brought new life to an ancient art form, has died. He was 84.
Mr. Marceau's former assistant Emmanuel Vacca said on French radio that the performer died Saturday in Paris. He gave no details.
"France loses one of its most eminent ambassadors," President Nicolas Sarkozy said Sunday in a statement.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon praised Mr. Marceau as "the master" who possessed the rare gift of "being able to communicate with each and every one beyond the barriers of language."
Active until late in his life, Mr. Marceau toured the world for more than half a century, giving more than 15,000 performances. Each included several pieces featuring Bip, the beloved character he created early in his career.
Annette Bercut Lust, author of "From the Greek Mimes to Marcel Marceau and Beyond," said Marceau's mentor, French mime master Etienne Decroux, "reinvented the art of mime to revive modern theater and the actor's art," whereas Mr. Marceau "popularized that art and brought it to the whole world."
Starting as a child mimic of Charlie Chaplin, Mr. Marceau by the age of 30 had become the single person to embody the ancient art of mime. He also took mime in new directions.
Through the years, Mr. Marceau created dozens of adventures for Bip, the dreamy little poet, whose white face, ill-fitting striped shirt, too-long pants and smashed hat topped with a jaunty red carnation are perhaps the most familiar image of mime today.
In addition to Bip's adventures, Mr. Marceau created many other "mimodramas," including Gogol's "The Overcoat," the story of a Russian clerk who works for a decade to buy an overcoat only to lose it to theft. Innumerable solo sketches, such as "The Creation of the World" and, among his most revered works, one that showed the four stages of life - youth, maturity, old age and death.
To be a mime, Mr. Marceau noted, one must be a sculptor, a painter, a writer, a poet and a musician. And one must also have incredible physical stamina and talent.
"It's not dance," he said. "It's not slapstick. It is essence and restraint."
Besides his performing, Mr. Marceau dedicated himself to being the muse for those who would follow him, including students who studied at L'Ecole Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris, which he opened in 1978.
And he delighted in those who simply emulated him well, such as Michael Jackson, who developed his famed "moon walk" after seeing Mr. Marceau's "walk against the wind" routine.
But Mr. Marceau also lamented that some of his less talented imitators had given mime a bad name. He especially rued the street mimes who worked popular tourist attractions such as San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.
"People think, 'Oh my God, not again!' when they see them and miss the fact that mime, done well, is like nothing else," Mr. Marceau told the Los Angeles Times in 1989.
Mr. Marceau was a garrulous man offstage and never tired of recounting his life story or explaining the importance of mime - hoping he would not be the last to carry on its tradition.
Mr. Marceau appeared in numerous films, including "Barbarella" with Jane Fonda. His most famous appearance was perhaps in Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie," in which, as a joke, he spoke the only word in the script: "No."
Marcel Mangel, whose father was a kosher butcher, was born March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, near the French-German border. The family moved to Lille and later to Limoges.
When the Germans invaded France during World War II, Mr. Marceau's father was taken to Auschwitz, where he died in 1944. Mr. Marceau was 21.
Mr. Marcel and his older brother, Alain, changed the family name to Marceau - after Francois Severin Marceau-Desgraviers, an 18th century French general - and both brothers became part of the French underground.
Mr. Marceau found he had a talent for forging documents to help young Jewish men avoid the Nazi concentration camps, and he also helped spirit children across the border to neutral Switzerland. Toward the end of the war, he joined the Free French Forces, fighting alongside U.S. troops under Gen. George Patton.
In 1946, Mr. Marceau began his studies in Paris at the School of Dramatic Art in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre as a student of Charles Dullin. He hoped to become an actor, but when he encountered Decroux, who proclaimed him a "born mime," Mr. Marceau changed his life's course.
"I was good at it," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1973. "And then it began to possess me."
In 1947, Mr. Marceau created Bip, named after Dickens' Pip in "Great Expectations" but also inspired by Chaplin and the clown Pierrot. Mr. Marceau saw Bip as a Don Quixote character "who staggers with the windmills of life" and sent him on adventures ranging from taming a lion to getting stuck in an elevator.
His first appearance in the United States was in 1955 in New York City, where he would return frequently over the years.
Mr. Marceau often told the tale of having encountered his idol, Chaplin, in an airport. Chaplin, by then an old man, seemed to recognize his young adulator, so Mr. Marceau built up his nerve and went over to introduce himself.
He delighted Chaplin by doing a turn on the Little Tramp, and then Chaplin returned the flattery by imitating Mr. Marceau's imitation.
When they parted, Mr. Marceau grabbed Chaplin's hand and kissed it, which brought tears to Chaplin's eyes.
By age 80, Mr. Marceau had cut back his traveling schedule from 300 performances a year to a mere 150 - still a remarkable schedule for a performer of any age.
"If you stop at all when you are 70 or 80, you cannot go on," he once remarked in 2003. "You have to keep working."
He had two sons by his first marriage, to Huguette Mallet, which ended in divorce. His second marriage, to Ella Jaroszewicz, also ended in divorce. He had two daughters by his third wife, Anne Sicco, whom he later divorced.
Support Lighthouse Preservation
It's Part Of Our Heritage