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
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,
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
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
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
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 Espaçe 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.