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22 March 1923
22 September 2007 (aged 84)
Actor, mime artist
Anne Sicco (1975-2007)
Ella Jaroszewicz (m. 1966)
Huguette Mallette (div. 1958)
He was born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France to a Jewish family. His parents were Ann Werzberg and Charles Mangel, a kosher butcher. When Marcel was four years old, the family moved to Lille, but they later returned to Strasbourg. When France entered World War II, Marcel, 16, fled with his family to Limoges. In 1944 Marcel's father was captured and deported to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was killed. Marcel's mother survived.
Marcel and his older brother, Alain, adopted the last name "Marceau" during the German occupation of France; the name was chosen as a reference to François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers, a general of the French Revolution. The two brothers joined the French Resistance in Limoges, where they saved numerous children from the race laws and concentration camps, and, after the liberation of Paris, joined the French army. Owing to Marcel's excellent command of the English language, he worked as a liaison officer with General George Patton's army. Marcel started miming as a way of keeping children quiet as they were escaping to neutral Switzerland.
Marceau was demobilized in 1946. He enrolled as a student in Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris, where he studied with teachers like Joshua Smith and the great master, Étienne Decroux, who had also taught Jean-Louis Barrault.
Before beginning his career as a mime, Marcel Marceau danced with Rina Shaham (née Rosalind Gologorsky); she ended their partnership to pursue a successful career in modern dance in Israel.
Marceau joined Jean-Louis Barrault's company and was soon cast in the role of Arlequin in the pantomime, Baptiste (which Barrault had interpreted in the film Les Enfants du Paradis). Marceau's performance won him such acclaim that he was encouraged to present his first "mimodrama", Praxitele and the Golden Fish, at the Bernhardt Theatre that same year. The acclaim was unanimous and Marceau's career as a mime was firmly established.
In 1947 Marceau created Bip the Clown and was first played at the Théâtre de Poche (Pocket Theatre) in Paris. In his appearance he wore a striped pullover and a battered, beflowered silk opera hat. The outfit signified life's fragility and Bip became his alter ego, just as the "Little Tramp" became Charlie Chaplin's. Bip's misadventures with everything from butterflies to lions, from ships and trains, to dance-halls or restaurants, were limitless. As a style of Pantomime, Marceau was acknowledged without peer. His silent mimed exercises, which included The Cage, Walking Against the Wind, The Mask Maker, and In The Park, all became classic displays. Satires on everything from sculptors to matadors were described as works of genius. Of his summation of the ages of man in the famous Youth, Maturity, Old Age and Death, one critic said: "He accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes."
In 1949, following his receipt of the Deburau Prize (established as a memorial to the 19th century mime master Jean-Gaspard Deburau) for his second mimodrama, Death before Dawn, Marceau founded Compagnie de Mime Marcel Marceau, the only company of pantomime in the world at the time. The ensemble played the leading Paris theaters, such as Le Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Le Théâtre de la Renaissance, and the Bernhardt Theatre, as well as other playhouses throughout the world. From 1959 to 1960, a retrospective of his mimodramas, including The Overcoat by Gogol, ran for a full year at the Amibigu Theatre in Paris. He produced 15 other mimodramas, including Pierrot de Montmartre, The Three Wigs, The Pawn Shop, 14 July, The Wolf of Tsu Ku Mi, Paris Cries—Paris Laughs and Don Juan (adapted from the Spanish writer Tirso de Molina).
Marceau performed all over the world in order to spread the "art of silence" (L'art du silence). It was the intellectual minority who knew of him until he first toured the United States in 1955 and 1956, close on the heels of his North American debut at the Stratford Festival of Canada. After his opening engagement at the Phoenix Theater in New York, which received rave reviews, he moved to the larger Barrymore Theater to accommodate the public demand. This first US tour ended with a record-breaking return to standing-room-only crowds in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and other major cities. His extensive transcontinental tours included South America, Africa, Australia, China, Japan, South East Asia, Russia, and Europe. His last world tour covered the United States in 2004, and returned to Europe in 2005 and Australia in 2006. He was one of the world's most renowned mimes.
Marceau's art became familiar to millions through his many television appearances. His first television performance as a star performer on the Max Liebman Show of Shows won him an Emmy Award. He appeared on the BBC as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol in 1973. He was a favorite guest of Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore, and he also had his own one-man show entitled "Meet Marcel Marceau". He teamed with Red Skelton in three concerts of pantomimes.
Marceau also showed his versatility in motion pictures such as First Class, in which he played 17 roles, Shanks, where he combined his silent art, playing a deaf and mute puppeteer, and his speaking talent, as a mad scientist; as Professor Ping in Barbarella, and a cameo as himself in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, in which, with purposeful irony, his character has the only audible speaking part, uttering the single word "No!" when Brooks asks him (via intertitle) if he would participate in the film. He also had a role in a low-budget film roughly based on his life story called Paint It White. The film was never completed because another actor in the movie, a life-long friend[who?] with whom he had attended school, died halfway through filming.
As an author, Marceau published two books for children, the Marcel Marceau Alphabet Book and the Marcel Marceau Counting Book, and poetry and illustrations, including La ballade de Paris et du Monde (The Ballad of Paris and of the World), an art book which he wrote in 1966, and The Story of Bip, written and illustrated by Marceau and published by Harper and Row. In 1982, Le Troisième Œil, (The Third Eye), his collection of ten original lithographs, was published in Paris with an accompanying text by Marceau. Belfond of Paris published Pimporello in 1987. In 2001, a new photo book for children titled Bip in a Book, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, appeared in the bookstores in the US, France and Australia.
In 1969, Marcel Marceau opened his first school, Ecole Internationale de Mime, in the Théàtre de la Musique in Paris. The school was open for two years with fencing, acrobatics, ballet and five teachers of Mime.
In 1978, Marceau established his own school, École Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris, Marcel Marceau (International School of Mimodrame of Paris, Marcel Marceau). In 1996, he established the Marceau Foundation to promote mime in the United States.
In 1995, pop megastar Michael Jackson and Marceau conceived a concert for HBO, but the concert was cancelled because Jackson had collapsed due to a panic attack prior to the concert. In 2000, Marceau brought his full mime company to New York City for presentation of his new mimodrama, The Bowler Hat, previously seen in Paris, London, Tokyo, Taipei, Caracas, Santo Domingo, Valencia (Venezuela) and Munich. From 1999, when Marceau returned with his classic solo show to New York and San Francisco after 15-year absences for critically acclaimed sold-out runs, his career in America enjoyed a remarkable renaissance with strong appeal to a third generation. He latterly appeared to overwhelming acclaim for extended engagements at such legendary American theaters as The Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, demonstrating the timeless appeal of the work and the mastery of this unique artist.
Marceau's new full company production Les Contes Fantastiques (Fantasy Tales) opened to great acclaim at the Théâtre Antoine in Paris.
Marceau was married three times: first to Huguette Mallet, with whom he had two sons, Michel and Baptiste; then, to Ella Jaroszewicz, with whom he had no children. His third wife was Anne Sicco, with whom he had two daughters, Camille and Aurélia.
Death and commemoration
Marcel Marceau died at the racetrack in Cahors, France, on 22 September 2007 at the age of 84. At his burial ceremony, the second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 (which Marceau long used as an accompaniment for an elegant mime routine) was played, as was the sarabande of Bach's Cello Suite No. 5. Marcel Marceau was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. In 1999 New York City declared 18 March "Marcel Marceau Day".
Awards and honors
Marceau was made a commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, an Officer of the Légion d'honneur, and in 1978 he received the Médaille Vermeil de la Ville de Paris. The City of Paris awarded him a grant which enabled him to reopen his International School which offered a three-year curriculum. In November 1998, President Jacques Chirac made Marceau a grand officer of the Ordre national du Mérite.
Marceau held honorary doctorates from Ohio State University, Linfield College, Princeton University and the University of Michigan. In April 2001, Marceau was awarded the Wallenberg Medal by the University of Michigan in recognition of his humanitarianism and acts of courage aiding Jews and other refugees during World War II.
- Preface to the French high wire artist Philippe Petit's 1985 book, On The High Wire. ISBN 039471573X
- Foreword to Stefan Niedziałkowski's and Jonathan Winslow's 1993 book, Beyond the Word—the World of Mime. ISBN 1879094231
Martin, Ben. Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, Paddington Press (UK) Limited, 1978. ISBN 0-448-22680-4
- ^ "Marcel Marceau Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 22 January 2009.
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- ^ Luther, Claudia (24 September 2007). "Marcel Marceau, 84; legendary mime was his art's standard-bearer for seven decades". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 September 2008.
- ^ Sage, Adam. "Marcel Marceau, master of silence whose comic language enchanted the world". The Times, 24 September 2007.
- ^ Meacham, Steve (29 November 2009). "How mayonnaise sandwiches saved kids from Nazis". The Age (Fairfax).
- ^ "Master of Mime passes away",[dead link] The Australian.
- ^ "Marcel Marceau, Renowned Mime, Dies at 84", The New York Times, 24 September 2007.
- ^ Associated Press (26 September 2007). "Marcel Marceau laid to rest". CNN. Retrieved 4 January 2008.[dead link]
- ^ Kirkup, James (24 September 2007). "Marcel Marceau: Mime Artist and Teacher". The Independent (London). Retrieved 6 February 2009.