French Media Report Marcel Marceau, Mime, Dies at 84
Filed at 5:15 a.m. ET
PARIS (AP) -- Marcel Marceau, who revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, has died, French media reported Sunday. He was 84.
France-Info radio and LCI television said the family had announced the death of Marceau. No other details were released.
Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, the world-famous Marceau played the entire range of human emotions onstage for more than 50 years, never uttering a word. Offstage, he was famously chatty. ''Never get a mime talking. He won't stop,'' he once said.
A French Jew, Marceau survived the Holocaust -- and also worked with the French Resistance to protect Jewish children.
His biggest inspiration was Charlie Chaplin. Marceau, in turn, inspired countless young performers -- Michael Jackson borrowed his famous ''moonwalk'' from a Marceau sketch, ''Walking Against the Wind.''
Marceau performed tirelessly around the world until late in life, never losing his agility, never going out of style. In one of his most poignant and philosophical acts, ''Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death,'' he wordlessly showed the passing of an entire life in just minutes.
''Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?'' he once said.
Marceau was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, France. His father Charles, a butcher who sang baritone, introduced his son to the world of music and theater at an early age. The boy adored the silent film stars of the era: Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers.
When the Germans marched into eastern France, he and his family were given just hours to pack their bags. He fled to southwest France and changed his last name to Marceau to hide his Jewish origins.
With his brother Alain, Marceau became active in the French Resistance. Marceau altered children's identity cards, changing their birth dates to trick the Germans into thinking they were too young to be deported. Because he spoke English, he was recruited to be a liaison officer with Gen. George S. Patton's army.
In 1944, Marceau's father was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.
Later, he reflected on his father's death: ''Yes, I cried for him.''
But he also thought of all the others killed: ''Among those kids was maybe an Einstein, a Mozart, somebody who (would have) found a cancer drug,'' he told reporters in 2000. ''That is why we have a great responsibility. Let us love one another.''
When Paris was liberated, Marcel's life as a performer began. He enrolled in Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art, studying with the renowned mime Etienne Decroux.
On a tiny stage at the Theatre de Poche, a smoke-filled Left Bank cabaret, he sought to perfect the style of mime that would become his trademark.
Bip -- Marceau's on-stage persona -- was born.
Marceau once said that Bip was his creator's alter ego, a sad-faced double whose eyes lit up with child-like wonder as he discovered the world. Bip was a direct descendant of the 19th century harlequin, but his clownish gestures, Marceau said, were inspired by Chaplin and Keaton.
Marceau likened his character to a modern-day Don Quixote, ''alone in a fragile world filled with injustice and beauty.''
Dressed in a white sailor suit, a top hat -- a red rose perched on top -- Bip chased butterflies and flirted at cocktail parties. He went to war and ran a matrimonial service.
In one famous sketch, ''Public Garden,'' Marceau played all the characters in a park, from little boys playing ball to old women with knitting needles.
In 1949 Marceau's newly formed mime troupe was the only one of its kind in Europe. But it was only after a hugely successful tour across the United States in the mid-1950s that Marceau received the acclaim that would make him an international star.
Single-handedly, Marceau revived the art of mime.
''I have a feeling that I did for mime what (Andres) Segovia did for the guitar, what (Pablo) Casals did for the cello,'' he once told The Associated Press in an interview.
In the past decades, he has taken Bip to from Mexico to China to Australia. He's also made film appearances. The most famous was Mel Brooks' ''Silent Movie'': He had the only speaking line, ''Non!''
As he aged, Marceau kept on performing at the same level, never losing the agility that made him famous. On top of his Legion of Honor and his countless honorary degrees, he was invited to be a United Nations goodwill ambassador for a 2002 conference on aging.
''If you stop at all when you are 70 or 80, you cannot go on,'' he told The AP in an interview in 2003. ''You have to keep working.''
Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.
Sep 27th 2007
From The Economist print edition
From The Economist print edition
Bip, the world's quietest clown, died on September 22nd, older than he seemed
Camera PressWHEN the spotlight faded on Bip last week, leaving not even a hand or a flower illuminated, it caused only a sigh of surprise. Bip had tried many times to put an end to himself. He would cut his wrists with a blade, nicking and wincing away from it, in case his copious blood gushed over his pure white sailor's trousers. He would shake out into his palm a handful of pills from a bottle, open his wide red mouth, and fail to swallow them. Stepping on a chair that wobbled under him, he would knot a noose round his scrawny neck, test it, yank it, gyrate his neck like a pigeon and step out into the void. Nothing worked. He went on living.
That he should wish to die was also not surprising. Often he was kept, crouching or standing, in a small cage on the stage. One by one he ran his hands along the bars until, with all his strength, he pushed two apart and jumped nimbly out; but then, right ahead of him, behind him, all round him, he found his palms flattening against a wall of glass. Each cage was contained in another. His hands often became birds, flickering and fluttering out of his sleeves, and he made them fly swiftly from their prisons, laughing as they flew. But the bars soon closed again round him.
Like all human beings, he dreamed; but his dreams were rarely successful. He hunted butterflies with a darting net, only to break their wings. He plucked flowers, then picked their petals out, and was surprised they died. When he tried to tame lions, they ate him, scorning the thin hoop he flourished in their direction. He walked against wind and made no progress. His black-ringed eyes and black-lined eyebrows registered sadness, wonder, perplexity and terror. But he did not know what malevolence was. He was, said the man who knew him best, a romantic, a Don Quixote tilting at windmills, and “alone in a fragile world filled with injustice and beauty”.
To the naked eye Bip had only the clothes he stood up in: trousers, jacket, soft ballet shoes, striped jersey, and a crumpled opera-hat topped with a red flower. His lean limbs and white face were his only language. The spotlight played on him, and nothing else. Yet the silence around him was filled with chairs, tables, animals, trunks and escalators. It swarmed with lounging waiters, officious policemen, dog-walkers pulled to right and left of the path, old ladies knitting. Railway trains roared through, and Bip, bouncing and swaying in his seat, struggled to keep his suitcase from falling out of the rack. The sea flooded in, bringing a ship that could take Bip on his constant travels to America, to Japan and to Australia, and he staggered manfully up and down the pitching deck.
He was born, some said, in the Paris acting school in 1947, bred by Jean-Louis Barrault in “Les Enfants du Paradis” and raised at the tiny Théâtre de Poche in Montparnasse. Others made him far older, dating from the Athenian drama and the Japanese noh plays, via the commedia dell'arte and Charlie Chaplin. Parts of all this went into the making of him, as well as the imaginings of the young Marcel Marceau, in Strasbourg in the 1930s, trying on his father's long trousers and contorting his body to make his friends laugh. His name, Bip, came loosely from Dickens's “Great Expectations”. His hat, flower and sailor-costume solidified over time.
Becoming the tempestHe never spoke. Mr Marceau's father died in 1944 in Auschwitz, and Bip's silence was a tribute to all those who had been silenced in the camps. It was a recollection, too, of the necessary muteness of resistance fighters caught by the Nazis, or quietly leading children across the Swiss border to safety, as Mr Marceau had done. In one of his acts, “Bip Remembers”, the sad-faced clown relived in mime the horrors of the war and stressed the necessity of love. In another, his hands became good and evil: evil clenched and jerky, good flowing and emollient, with good just winning.
His alter ego, who promoted him as Everyman all over the world, sometimes spoke for him. “Bip”, said Mr Marceau, “is a hero of our time. His gaze is turned not only towards heaven, but into the hearts of men.” Mr Marceau compiled his biography and painted his portrait, colouring him blue, rose and mauve as he walked through the city streets and sailed among the stars. He wrote a poem for him:
A silent, fragile hand has drawn in space a white flower emptied of its blood.
Soon it will open, blossom out.
Soon, though faded, bloom again.Mr Marceau was garrulous and gregarious where Bip was not. He ran his own mime company for almost 60 years, staging mimodrames when they were completely out of fashion, and started an international school in Paris to teach his skills to others. No mime artist could touch him. Hollywood loved him. Mr Marceau gave interviews frequently, sometimes in Bip's clothes, explaining him to the crowd: “If I do this, I feel that I am a bird. If I do this, I am a fish. And I feel that, if I do this, it's like a song...To mime the wind, one becomes a tempest. Mime expresses...the soul's most secret aspiration.”
Bip simply moved on the stage, bird, fish, song, wind, tempestuously without a word, until he too became invisible.