The Poet Of Silence – Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)

Marcel MarceauMarcel Marceau, one of the great poetic masters of mime who became the symbol for its rebirth following the devastation of WWII, died in Paris on Saturday surrounded by his family and friends at the age of 84.

Art historians, who often compared him to Charlie Chaplin, said that he alone resurrected the art form that benefited many performers including Michael Jackson by expressing emotion that went beyond the bounds of spoken language. No details of his death were reported by his daughter, Camille Marceau, as plans are being made for his burial in Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Central Paris.

A fan of silent movies, Chaplin, Keaton and the Marx Brothers were his idols and inspiration when he enrolled in the Dullin’s School of Dramatic Art, studying under the renowned mime Etienne Decroux, at the end of WWII.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France expressed his “emotion, admiration and respect” for a man who “took the stage arts to a peak of perfection,” while Culture Minister Christine Albanel said his name was “synonymous with the exacting discipline of mime, which he performed with poetry and tenderness.”

Born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France, on March 22, 1923, of Jewish Heritage, he was forced to leave his home with the invasion of France. He fled to the Southwest, changed his name to Marceau and began his aggressive work in the French Resistance, protecting children from being transported to concentration camps. His command of English led him to become a liaison of General George S. Patton.

His father was killed in Auschwitz in 1944, suffering the fate of so many whose final destination were the gas chambers. He often reflected on his father with sadness and emotion but also recognized “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.”

Bip became Marceau’s on stage persona and alter ego, “a sad-faced double whose eyes lit up with child-like wonder and curiosity as he discovered the world. Bip was a direct descendant of the Nineteenth Century Harlequin, but his clownish gestures, Marceau said, were inspired by Chaplin and Keaton.”

Marceau’s art form became his way of expressing emotion in a world that, although says much through spoken language, forgets to say the most important things. Mime became his way to publicly articulate the quality of expression through body language, facial gestures while silently mirroring the spirit of the soul. “In one of his most poignant and philosophical performances, he portrayed “Youth, Maturity, Old Age, and Death,” displaying in silence the passing of an entire life in just minutes.