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In Memoriam



Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind


Marcel Marceau: The Mime of the Millenium

 Marcel MarceauMarcel Marceau

Tuesday, October 9-------Although he was not strictly an actor, nor was his work in films his most enduring legacy, it is important nevertheless to mark the passing of Marcel Marceau, the internationally famous French pantomimist, who died at the age of 84 on September 24th. Although his visage was one of the most famous in international culture, it was ironically always obscured by his trademark white makeup. Few except close associates would even recognize the man outside of his mime persona. But in it, he was an enduring icon, the mime of the Millenium, for several generations of international fans.

Marcel Marceau was born Marcel Mangel, of Jewish parents in Strasbourg, France, on March 22, 1923. His father, a butcher, was deported to a concentration camp by the Germans in 1944 and never returned. Marcel moved to Paris, with a new surname and false identification papers. Until the liberation of Paris, he worked in the Resistance, hiding Jewish children from the Gestapo and the French police, who helped round up Jews for deportation. In 1944 he joined the French army, and the next year, while stationed in Germany, he gave his first public performance as a mime for an audience of some 3,000 American soldiers.

After the war , Marceau attended the acting school run by Charles Dullin at the School of Dramatic Art in the Sarah Bernhardt Theater in Paris. He planned to become a speaking actor, but he studied under Etienne Decroux, a master of miming, who had taught the noted mime Jean-Louis Barrault. Mr. Barrault invited Marceau to join his theater company, and the rest was silence. Since 1946, Marceau had performed an average of 200 shows a year, most of them abroad. His repertory changed little over the decades, but he played to full houses in the United States, Germany and other European countries, Australia and Japan. However, in his native France, he was rather under-appreciated.....or pehaps the art form that he so exemplified was regarded by leading cultural critics as old fashioned and rather cliched. However, in recognition of his international impact, in 1970 the French government named him a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur for cultural affairs. And in 1978, Jacques Chirac, then the mayor of Paris, established a subsidy for Mr. Marceau's school for mimes, which went on to produce hundreds of performers.

MM in BARBARELLAMM in BARBARELLAOver the course of a 60 year career, he appeared in only 13 films, usually as a specialty performer reprising one of his signature stage persona or a supporting part that allowed him to show off his great physical dexterity. In the early 1950s, he appeared in three short films. In the 1960s, he had a supporting role in the German film IT, directed by Ulrich Shamoni, and also appeared in the Russian sci-fii film YEGO ZVALI ROBERT, directed by Ilya Ohsvlanger. He had his most prominent role as Professor Ping in the sci-fi erotic classic BARBARELLA, starring Jane Fonda and directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim.

SHANKSSHANKSIn 1974, he had his most uncharacteristic role, as a mute puppeteer who controls dead bodies as puppets in the fantasy horror film SHANKS, directed by gore director William Castle. For the next two decades, his film appearances became spotty (with most of his cultural activity on the live stage and on television), with small parts in such films as THE ISLANDS (1983), KINSKI PAGANINI (1989) and JOSEPH'S GIFT (1998). He recreated his famous mime routine chronicling The Creation of the World, in a flawless and expressive performance that took only 5 minutes of screen time, in HOLY BLOOD (1989), directed by "midnight movie" director Alejandro Jodorowsky (the director of cult favorite EL TOPO). It is hard to say if the world of pantomime will ever be the same, now that its leading practioner has left the stage. But for those interested in this timeless art, there are at least a few examples of genius that were captured on celluloid and videotape.

Sandy Mandelberger, In Memoriam Editor


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About In Memoriam

Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)




Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind

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