Those of us who are older, who remember the golden age of variety shows on television– what I think of as the Ed Sullivan era — will remember the silent magic of Marcel Marceau, a man, a mime, whose evocative movement and facial expression captured all the nuances of life.
Marceau died Saturday in Paris, a quiet passage that echoed the silence that made him famous. France mourns, as do those of us around the world who were his fans. As the character Bip, Marceau donned white face, soft shoes and a big red flower; the rest emerged from within his heart and soul. Through him we ran the gauntlet of human experience and were not alone.
In one brief performance lasting mere minutes, Marceau was able to capture the birth-to-death emotions and experiences of human life. The piece, Youth Maturity, Old Age, Death, never needing words to make all of understand. We ‘got it.’
Marceau, a holocaust survivor, was born in France and worked with the French resistance to save the lives of Jewish children. The secrecy and silence of being ‘underground’ underscores the silence of the public performances that followed for nearly 50 years.
Born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France, he changed his name to Marceau to hide his Jewish history, a life-saving decision, given that his father died at Auschwitz. The English speaking Marceau was a liasion to Gen. Patton in World War II.
But these few details underscore the luminous quality of the gift he gave all of us: insight into ourselves, our souls, our very being.
Marceau did it first, and best. His Walking Against the Wind was the inspiration for Michael Jackson’s famous “moonwalk.” Through Public Garden and other pieces, Marceau proved time and again his power of observation and attention to minute detail, creating visual interpretations of humanity that were universally recognized.
He came into our living rooms on Sunday evenings,. in those early days of TV, and spent a little time with us, linking us to the rest of the world with and art and imagery that proved the connectedness of all human beings.