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Number 1 Shimbun

From the Archives - Master of mime

03

 

Laughter reigned during the professional luncheon for world-famous French actor and mime artist Marcel Marceau at the Club on Oct. 30, 1986. Seated to his left is then Club President Bruce MacDonell (Globe Net), and to his right is Richard Pyle (AP), both mirthfully enjoying his presentation. Since his appearance at the Club, a photo of Marceau, holding fingers to lips in a call for silence, has occupied a conspicuous place in our library.

 

Born in Strasbourg, France, into a Jewish family as Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, Marcel Marceau took on the name he was to later make famous in order to evade the Nazi occupiers during WWII. He and his brother, Alain, who also took on the Marceau name, then joined the French Resistance and assisted Jewish children to escape into Switzerland. Fluent in French, English, and German, he joined the French army after the liberation of Paris and served as a liaison officer with the US army.

Soon after, under the early influence of a Charlie Chaplin film, Marceau took up the study of dramatic acting and mime in Paris. Early success in a pantomime role was followed by his creation of “The Overcoat,” a “mimodrama” presented in his silent style of dramatic action that brought major acclaim. In 1947 he more firmly established his reputation with “Bip the Clown,” a character drawn in part from Chaplin’s “Little Tramp,” and later founded the world’s only pantomime company. His extensive and numerous tours, especially across the US during the 1950s, further solidified his international popularity. He also appeared in several successful films.

Marceau’s achievements ranged from establishing a school in Paris to teach his so-called “art of silence” to creating a foundation in New York to promote this art form. He was the recipient of numerous French awards and a US Emmy. He was also declared a National Treasure here in Japan, where Noh drama was one of many early influences on his work. Returning the favor, he later had some influence on Japan’s evolving art of butoh. He was an inspiration to Michael Jackson, too, who based his “moonwalk” on Marceau’s movements, as well as to countless young performers in many countries.

After an illustrious career as a master of mime, Marcel Marceau died in Paris at the age of 84 on Sept. 22, 2007.

Charles Pomeroy
editor of Foreign Correspondents in Japan,
a history of the Club that is available at the front desk

Published in: May 2019

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