Marcel Marceau, French (1923 - 2007)

  Marcel Marceau - universally acclaimed as the world's greatest mime - was born in Strasbourg, France. Marceau's interest in the art of mime began at an early age when he would imitate with gestures anything that fired his imagination. Later he discovered such silent screen artists as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and his admiration for these great actors inspired him to pursue the art of silence as a profession. 

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 the great master, Etienne Decroux, who had also taught Jean-Louis Barrault. The latter noticed Marceau's exceptional talent, made him a member of his company, and cast him in the role of
Arlequin in the pantomime entitled Baptiste - which Barrault himself had interpreted in the world famous film "Les Enfants du Paradis". Marceau's performance won him such acclaim that he was encouraged to present his first "mimodrama", called Praxitele and the Golden Fish, at the Bernhardt Theatre that same year. The acclaim was so unanimous that Marceau's career as a mime was firmly established. 

In 1947, Marceau created "Bip", the clown who in his striped pullover and battered, deflowered opera hat, has become his alter-ego, even as Chaplin's "Little Tramp" became that star's personality. Bip's misadventures with everything from butterflies to lions, on ships and trains, in dance-halls or restaurants, are limitless. 

As a style pantomime, Marceau has been acknowledged without peer. His silent exercises, which include such classic works as "The Cage", "Walking Against the Wind", "The Mask Maker", and "In The Park", and satires on everything from sculptors to matadors, have been 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 renowned Deburau Prize (established as a memorial to the 19th century master) for his second mimodrama, Death before Dawn, Marceau formed his "Compagnie de Mime Marcel Marceau" - the only company of pantomime in the world at the time. The ensemble played the leading Paris theaters -
Le Theatre des Champs-Elyees, Le Theatre de la Renaissance, and the Sarah Bernhardt - as well as other playhouses throughout the world. During the 1959-60 Paris theatre season, a retrospective of his mimodramas, including the famous Overcoat by Gogol, ran for a full year at the Amibigu Theatre. Marcel Marceau has produced 15 other
mimodramas, including Pierrot de Montmartre, The Three Wigs, The Pawn Shop, 14th July, The Wolf of Tsu Ku Mi, Paris Cries - Paris Laughs, and Don Juan (adapted from the Spanish writer Tirso de Molina). 

He first toured the United States in 1955-56, close on the heels of his North American debut at the Stratford (Ontario) Festival. 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, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and other major cities. His extensive transcontinental tours have included South America, Africa, Australia, China, Japan, South East Asia, Russia and Europe. 

Mr. Marceau's art has become familiar to millions of Americans through his many television appearances. His first television performance as a star performer on the "Max Liebman Show of Shows" won him the television industry's coveted "Emmy" award. He appeared on the BBC as Scrooge, in "A Christmas Carol" in 1973. He has been 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 has also shown his versatility in motion pictures, such as "First Class" (in which he portrayed 17 different roles), "Shanks" (where he combined his silent art, playing a deaf and mute puppeteer, and his speaking talent, as a mad scientist), and Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie". A further example of Mr. Marceau's multiple talents was the mimodrama Candide, which he created for the Ballet company of the Hamburg Opera. He directed this work and also performed the title role. 

Children have been delighted by his highly acclaimed "Marcel Marceau Alphabet Book" and "Marcel Marceau Counting Book". Other publications of Mr. Marceau's poetry and illustrations include his "La ballade de Paris et du Monde", which he wrote in 1966, and "The Story of Bip", written and illustrated by Marcel Marceau and published by Harper and Row. In 1982 "The Third Eye", his collection of ten lithographs, was published in Paris with an accompanying text by Mr. Marceau. Belfond of Paris published "Pimporello" in 1987. 

The French Government has conferred upon Mr. Marceau its highest honor, making him an "Officier de la Legion d'Honneur," and in 1978 he received the Medaille Vermeil de la Ville de Paris. In November of 1998, President Chirac named Marceau a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit, and he is an elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, the Academie des Beaux Arts France, and the Institut de France. The City of Paris awarded him a grant which enabled him to reopen his International School, which offers a three year curriculum. 

Mr. Marceau holds honorary doctorates from Ohio State University, Linfield College, Princeton University, and the University of Michigan - America's way of honoring Marcel Marceau's creation of a new art form, inherited from an old tradition. 

1997-98 marked the 50th Anniversaty of Marcel Marceau's famous copyrighted character Bip. In that season, he created with his Company a new Mimodrama, The Bowler Hat, presented in Paris at the Espa├že Cardin for two months with great success, and since seen in London, Tokyo, Taipei and Caracas. 

Marceau returned to North America in the spring of 1999 for a tour that included performances in Anchorage and Valdez, Alaska, and a triumphant sold-out two-week engagement at the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse in New York City, during which time Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared Thursday, March 18, "Marcel Marceau Day" in the City! The New York return also marked the formal launch of the new Marcel Marceau Foundation for the Advancement of the Art of Mime with a Gala opening. An educational video on mime training is now being created from an intensive training workshop taught by Marceau and produced and recorded by the Foundation. Following the New York engagement, Marceau toured South America and returns to Paris for the annual closing sessions of his school.


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