Sunday, September 23, 2007

Marcel Marceau, son of Holocaust victim, dies........

PARIS - 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.

A French Jew, Marceau escaped deportation to a Nazi death camp during the Second World War, 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.

His biggest inspiration was Charlie Chaplin. In turn, Marceau inspired countless young performers - Michael Jackson borrowed his famous "moonwalk" from a Marceau sketch, "Walking Against the Wind."

Marceau's former assistant Emmanuel Vacca said on French radio that the peformer died Saturday in Paris, but gave no details.

In one of Marceau's most poignant and philosophical acts, "Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death," Marceau wordlessly showed the passing of an entire life in just minutes.

He took his art to stages across the world, performing in Asia, Europe and the United States, his "second country," where he first performed in 1955 and returned every two years. He performed for Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Tireless, Marceau took his art to Cuba for the first time in September 2005.

"France loses one of its most eminent ambassadors," President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement. Prime Minister Francois Fillon praised Marceau as "the master" with the rare gift of "being able to communicate with each and everyone beyond the barriers of language."

The son of a butcher, the mime was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, France. His father Charles, a baritone with a love of song, introduced his son to the world of music and theatre at an early age. The boy was captivated by the silent film stars of the era: Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers.

When the Nazis marched into eastern France, he fled with family members to the southwest and changed his last name to Marceau to hide his Jewish origins.

With his brother Alain, Marceau became active in the French Resistance, altering children's identity cards by changing birth dates to trick the Nazis into thinking they were too young to be deported. Because he spoke English, he was recruited to be a liaison officer with general George Patton's army.

His father was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944.

"Yes, I cried for him," Marceau said. But he said he also thought of 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."

Some of Marceau's later work reflected the sombre experiences. Even the character Bip, who chased butterflies in his debut, took on the grand themes of humanity.

Marcel's life as a performer began with the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. He enrolled in Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art, studying with the renowned mime Etienne Decroux.

As he aged, Marceau kept performing, never losing the agility that made him famous.

A perforated ulcer nearly killed Marceau in the Soviet Union in December 1985. He was rushed home to Paris in critical condition, but bounced back to the stage five months later.

On top of his Legion of Honour and his countless honorary degrees, he was invited to be a United Nations goodwill ambassador for a 2002 conference on ageing.

"If you stop at all when you are 70 or 80, you cannot go on," he said in 2003. "You have to keep working."

Marceau was married three times and had four children. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.

Jeremy Jacobs - Corporate Presenter


Colin Campbell said...

A true genius, with a really interesting story. I was intriqued by the comment that I read that he was extremely talkative off the stage.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Tx for dropping by Colin

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks for this information. I didn't know his father was a holocaust victim. I can see the sadness in the character of Bip. He was a wonderful man.

Ms Smack said...

What a great man.