"The Master of Silence"

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As a child, I was always afraid of clowns. My folks took me to the circus when I was six, and I cried while watching those bizarre characters with their wild orange hair and frozen smiles. To me, they resembled playground bullies as they hit each other over the head with rubber chickens and buckets of water. Their trickster pranks seem to suggest something darker that lurked somewhere beneath the surface mask.

Despite my parents’ assurances that it was all make-believe, I came away from that experience with the first truism of my young life: Never trust a clown.

Years later, a friend showed me an old black and white video of a man dressed in an ill-fitting jumpsuit and white-faced clown makeup. His character was referred to as “Bip,” the clown. His artistry was at once mesmerizing and endearing, and revealed a magic soul that radiated from behind the mask. From simple to elaborate, comical to poignant, he portrayed through expressive mime our “life without words” with amazing eloquence of movement.

His name was Marcel Marceau.

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Marcel Marceau, The Silent Poet  (March 22, 1923 – September 22, 2007)
Marcel Marceau, The Silent Poet (March 22, 1923 – September 22, 2007) | Source

~~~~~~~


The Silent Poet


He spoke to us in poet voice

With features pale profound,

In rhythmic grace and wordless song

He murmured not a sound;


Inside an ageless box of glass

He stirred the truth of time,

Reshaping while escaping us

Through hidden doors of mime;


His fluid hands would flutter-dance

As birds embraced in flight,

And mirrored soft our struggles

With the darkness and the light;


He called us to our faded youth

In dreams so simple sweet,

And shared our silent promise of

Tomorrows yet asleep;


In silent worlds we watched unfold

The beauty of his art...

This gift of inspiration through

The language of the heart.


~~~~~~~


Known as “The Master of Silence,” Marceau’s humor was subtle, boundless and irresistible. In the video that follows, he introduces a scene vignette that takes place at a small café in Paris.


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Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?

--- Marcel Marceau

In one of his most moving and admired pantomimes, Marceau flawlessly portrayed the metamorphosis of man. This famous routine is captured in the next video. From the embryo to his birth as an eager child, we watch his journey travel through to confident adulthood. His life continues into the fragility of old age before finally culminating in death, and resounds back to his beginnings in embryonic form. The lighting begins with gray shadows and grows brighter as his life begins. The quality of the video is a bit grainy due to the pre-digital age of this 1965 film, but is nonetheless mesmerizing.



To communicate through silence is a link between the thoughts of man.

--- Marcel Marceau

Marceau portrayed many moods and personae; from passersby on the street, to lion tamers, sculptors, tango dancers and many others. His acts included various characters in a play that captured human dramatic movement. In “The Tribunal,” he cast himself as the defendant, judge, jury and executioner. “Creation” signified the beginning of the world with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Regardless of subject and theme, Marceau’s brilliant reflections of people were fluid photographs of the soul.

It is not surprising to learn that this legendary artist led a remarkable life. He was born, Marcel Mangel, on September 23, 1923 in Strasbourg, France. His family was Jewish and fled to Limoges with the onset of World War II in France. His father perished in Auschwitz in 1944; his mother survived. In order to avoid discovery by the Nazis, Marcel changed his last name to Marceau. Both he and his brother, Alain, worked with the French Underground and helped many children escape to neutral Switzerland. Marcel spoke English, French and German fluently, and served as an interpreter and liaison officer for the Free French Forces and allied armies.

The people who came back from the concentration camps were never able to talk about it. My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.

--- Marcel Marceau

When the war ended, Marceau enrolled in Charles Dullin's School of Dramatic Art at the Sarah Berhardt Theatre in Paris. His parents had introduced him to the world of theatre and the arts as a young boy. After seeing a Charlie Chaplin film at the age of six, his lifelong dream was to become a mime.

In 1947, Bip the clown was born and appeared at theaters throughout Paris. Bip was based on the 19th-c French Pierrot, the melancholy drifter. Two years later, Marcel established the Compagnie de Mime Marcel Marceau, the only pantomime company in the world at that time. "Mime, like music, knows neither borders nor nationalities,” he once said. By the mid 50’s, he had popularized this beautiful art form all over the world. His school, École Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris, Marcel Marceau (International School of Mimodrame of Paris, Marcel Marceau), was founded in 1969.

Marcel Marceau and Michael Jackson
Marcel Marceau and Michael Jackson | Source

Marceau was also a teacher, author and painter. Although his work influenced the world of art, he often expressed disappointment over street imitators who worked the tourist venues in ways that reflected poorly on the world of mime. He was pleased, however, when artists such as Michael Jackson (a long time friend), improvised some of his unique inspiration of movement with their dancing and performance art.

I used to sit in the audience and watch how he would defy the laws of gravity, like he was stepping on air. I would take some of those things and include it into rhythm and dance when I moved.

--- Michael Jackson

Among his many awards and honors, Marceau was made a commander of the Order des Arts et des Lettres, an Officer of the Legion d’honneur. He was awarded honorary doctorates from Princeton University, the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. He also received the Wallenberg Medal from the University of Michigan in appreciation of his humanitarianism and courage in helping Jews and other refugees during World War II.

Marcel Marceau passed away in his southwestern town of Cahors, near Toulouse, France, on Sept. 22, 2007. He had retired from the stage two years earlier.

There is so much more to add about this extraordinary man’s life…it would literally fill volumes. But I prefer instead to end this hub by humbly tipping my imaginary, crumpled old hat with respect and homage in a silent prayer: “Thank you, Marcel, for my laughter and my tears.” ("Merci, Marcel, pour mes rires et mes larmes.")




End Notes: Biography sources; various publications including: Marcel Marceau – Biography IMDb; Marcel Marceau.com; Gloria Spielman, Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, (Kar-Ben Publishing; 9-28-2011)


© Copyright 2014 by Genna Eastman (Genna East). All rights reserved.

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46 comments

Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

genna, this is a beautiful tribute to a great artist in Marcel Marceau. he was an amazing mine and in fact the first performance of his I can remember seeing was in the Mel Brooks directed 'Silent Movie'. If I can remember correctly Marcel Marceu had the only speaking part in the movie, which was a typical Mel Brooks thing to do. Great hub, voted up.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Oh, I loved watching Marceau growing up and was mesmerized too. My daughter was terrified of clowns too, and I did not think to have her watch Marceau. What a lovely poem and tribute to an amazing artist, like no other, who can bring laughter and tears.

Up and more and sharing.

Have a great day,

Faith Reaper


LadyFiddler profile image

LadyFiddler 2 years ago from Somewhere in the West

Hi Genna nice poem and very interesting information about Marcel as anything with the WORLD WAR II grabs my attention.

Thanks for taking time to do this and for sharing it with us :)


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

I hated clowns when I was a little kid...they freaked me out. On the other end of the spectrum, I love your poem, and it definitely does not freak me out. A lovely way to begin my day, Genna!


always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

Your poetry is beautiful Genna. Marcel was a true master of silence. I also loved watching M.J. mime. Thank's for adding the video..Enjoyed...


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 2 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Some people are born with the creative spark in them that builds and builds as they grow. They are destined to become masters of their craft and all those that are priveldged to view their work are rewarded many times over.

And now a word about Marcel.

Shared and Tweeted.


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 2 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Dear Genna,

I will need to agree with Mike. I am mentally captivated by whatever subject or person you share with us...

I had no knowledge of Marcel's life and background. How very understandable was his vocational choice of silence, truly one of a kind.

Love your poetry and your childhood reflections as well.

Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 2 years ago

Oh Genna, what a Fun, Delightful, as well as Educational Hub read. Marcel taught us all to Smile and Laugh and Enjoy the stories that a Mime could give us with out saying a word. Thanks for the Treat of seeing these Wonderful Video's.

I Loved your light airy Poem...Thanks for giving the "arts" their dues.

Voted UP, Interesting & Beautiful!


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Jodah

Thank you, Jodah. Yes, he did have a non-speaking part in that movie. I believe he said, “Non.” (No.) That was so clever! :-) Marcel was an amazing artist and human being. Have a great week, Jodah, and thanks so much for the visit.

@Faith Reaper

Hello, dear Faith. :-) Thank you! I’m sorry to hear that your daughter was terrified of clowns. I was surprised to learn that this fear is not uncommon. Hugs, and have a great week.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Lady fiddler

Thank you, and you are also welcome! Good to see you.

@Billybuc

Oh, I know exactly what you mean. My folks couldn’t understand why I didn’t like them, but as I said in my comment to Faith, this dislike and fear is not uncommon. So we are (or were as kids), in good company. Thanks for that nice comment, Bill! :-)


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

“Thank you, Marcel, for my laughter and my tears.” that's how Ill begin the comment, love the tribute the poem and the history here Genna East :) he was indeed an icon and thank you for bringing his life to the front of the line... I had just known him as an entertainer...


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

Genna, I have a very tender feeling right now for Marcel and what he gave to the world. There will never be another quite like him. Thank you so much for this lovely tribute to a man who was great in so many ways. Your poem is so heart-warming.


tobusiness profile image

tobusiness 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

Genna, a wonderful tribute to a remarkable artist! Loved the poem and the videos. This hub is interesting and very informative. Beautifully done.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@AlwaysExploring

Hi Ruby. Thank you. :-) Marcel was a brilliant artist. He and Michael Jackson were friends for 20 years. I think many people assumed that Jackson got his famous moonwalk from Marceau since he used it in a famous sketch where it appeared as though he was being pushed backwards by an invisible gust of wind. MJ said that it was a composite move he picked up from Cab Calloway, Jackson Brown and Marceau. But he did integrate other movements from Marceau. Good to see you and I hope you are staying warm in this winter chill.

@Mckbirdbks

Hi Mike. Lol…thank you, my friend, that comment is sweet and clever. I am still trying to grow as a writer, and have “miles to go,” as they say. I loved your comment…it made my day! :-)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Marcoujor

Hello, dear Maria. Thank you so much! Your encouraging comments, like Mike’s, truly made my day. Marcel was truly one of a kind…an artist that revived and perfected an ancient art form. He was both wonderful, and inspiring. :-)

@B.Malin

Thank you, Barb. You said it well: Marcel did teach us to smile and to laugh at ourselves, and with each other. It’s good to see you, and I know you are enjoying those warmer temps in Florida. Have a wonderful day. :-)


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

What a great description of the clowns at the top, that's it! took me long enough to figure out why I don't like them!

Seriously though Genna, what a great hub and the life of Marcel Marceau, I had often wondered about him over the years as my mum and me used to sit and watch him on tv, and even back then I thought how marvelous he was bringing the characters to life through mime, wonderful! voted up and shared all the way!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

What a wonderful article on Marcel Marceau. I love your poem so full of great description. I love Marcel Marceau and saw him perform as a child. I adored his silent performances which said so much about him and life in general. I have also written a hub on Marcel Marceau. I have never been afraid of clowns, least of all Marceau.


DabbleYou profile image

DabbleYou 2 years ago

I never did understand pantomimes but some people think they are cool. I guess it's an acquired taste that some people naturally has and others don't.

Nice hub, by the way. And nice tribute to a man that had a lot of things going in his life, during his lifetime.


Bishop55 profile image

Bishop55 2 years ago from USA

Never heard of him until now. Very cool.


WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 2 years ago

What a beautiful and touching tribute-- I used to love watching him when I was a kid, despite the joke that has become of mimes he was truly an amazing and talented performance artist. Beautiful awesome poem, too. Nice work, love this hub.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

This is such a touching tribute to a master--he was my introduction to mime really--


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

You did a great job on this, it is a number one. Touches many emotions we all have and memories of man who should never be forgotten.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Frank Atanacio

Hi Frank. Thank you. He was a marvel…and a true artist of both the stage and the soul. Good to see you. Have a great weekend. :-)

@Phyllis Doyle

Hello Phyllis. Thank you for that lovely comment. I’ve never seen anyone else quite like him…he was such an inspiration.

@Tobusiness

Hi there. I appreciate the visit, and that special comment. Individuals and artists like Marcel are a joy to write about. :-)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@NellRose

Hi Nell. I know exactly what you mean about clowns. :-) Marcel’s routines were brilliant; and his expressions revealed how well he understood human nature. Thank you for that thoughtful comment, Nell.

@suzettenaples

Hi Sue. I didn’t realize that you also wrote a hub about Marcel…I look forward to reading it! I never regarded Marcel as a clown even though his alter ego, Bip, had the painted white face and other makeup. I think it’s because he never had one of those frozen smiles, and we could see into his soul as looked into ours with his unique and beautiful artistry. Thanks so much for the visit and comments. :-)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@DabbleYou

Hello and welcome. It’s shame how the copy cats are obnoxious street or mall mimes have given the art world of mime such bad name. It bothered Marcel greatly. They are literally from two different worlds. I appreciate the visit, and those very nice comments. Thank you!

@Bishop55

Hi there. :-) Thank you. He was very cool; that word describes him so well.

@WiccanSage

Hello…it’s nice to meet you. Thank you. You are so right about how mime has been reduced to jokes, but that’s largely due to those aggressive and less than talented imitations in malls, parks, and so on. It’s a shame.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Audrey Howitt

Hi Audrey. Thank you. He was the best introduction to mime anyone could ask for. :-) Especially, since we are seeing the concept of mime as an art form take on new dimensions. For example, Blue Man Group (who are very talented), are referred to as mimes, but they have taken this into another direction by combining music with technology. It’s good to see you; I appreciate your visit and comments.

@Jackie Lynnley

What a nice thing to say…thank you, Jackie. And you are so right, “a man who should never be forgotten.” Have a great weekend. :-)


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 2 years ago

I love Marceau. What a fabulous Hub. Thanks for the great read. Voted up for useful and interesting. :-)


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

A wonderful read and voted up for sure Genna.

Eddy.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Artsandlearning

Hello and welcome. I agree with you about how moments of silence can calm the spirit. Thank you for the visit and comment.

@Mecheshier

Thank you for the comment and votes. :-) Marcel was like no other…there will never be anyone else quite like him.

@Eiddwen

Hi Eddy. Thank you for the visit and vote. I just read the opening chapter to your story, and loved it. :-)


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 2 years ago

You sure have that right Genna


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

There is an art to this profession and not everyone is gifted with this talent. I remember watching Marceau; I enjoyed his performance each time. Not everyone loves a clown, but then - not every clown is loveable.


cam8510 profile image

cam8510 2 years ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016.

Genna, Awesome article. I learned, was entertained and inspired. Thank you. I'll take this one over to my facebook page for freelance writers. https://www.facebook.com/cam8510?ref=hl


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Interesting to read and learn about the life of a clown. Great article.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Mecheshier

Thank you! :-)

@Teaches12345

Yes, Marcel was incredibly gifted with the artistry of mime. I appreciate your thoughtful comments…thank you!

@Cam8510

Thank you, Cam! I will be sure to visit. I hope you had an enjoyable weekend. :-)

@NadineMay

Hi Nadine. He brought the world of the clown, or the melancholy vagabond, into the artistry of mime. Thanks, so much, for the visit and comments. :-)


kerlund74 profile image

kerlund74 2 years ago from Sweden

Absolute wonderful:) Love your poem.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thank you! My apologies for being so late in responding. :-)


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 2 years ago from South Africa

Wow! I am speechless! Marcel Marceau is indeed a clown of another nature - Deep and mesmerising. (Not at all silly as clowns tend to be.) Fascinating show (videos), and great tribute to a very talented artist. Thanks, Genna :)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thank you, Martie. He was wonderful...such a unique and profound talent. Good to see you. :-)


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 2 years ago from North Carolina

Marcel Marceau was a genius with movement and silence. This is a wonderful presentation of this man and how he impacted your life differently after your first clown experience. I agree about the UN-funniness of clowns. Never did like them, nor did my kids. They are scary behind all of that makeup, but the film industry doesn't help their cause.

MM was brought to my attention in the 70's while in H.S. I too was mesmerized by the fluidity of his movements and the story he would tell. I appreciate your tribute here and your poem is beautiful!

UP/U/I/B/A and shared.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Your lovely poem and tribute to this unique performer is enchanting.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Denise Handlon

Hi Denise..

I agree with you; MM was a genius. I also think that at times, there is nothing scarier than a clown. Unfortunately, the media does perpetuate this. Thanks so much for your visit and generous comments and votes! :-)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@PegCole17

Hi Peg. Thanks so much. It was a joy to write the article, and a privilege to write the poem. Artists such as Marcel inspire us all. :-)


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 2 years ago

Interesting hub.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thank you, poetryman. I enjoyed writing it. :-)


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 13 months ago from USA

What a beautiful and fitting tribute. A lovely poem, talented lady.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 13 months ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thank you! This wonderful man was (and still is) one of my heroes. :-)

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