The Art of Silence
Mid Week Musing #269
Marcel Marceau : 1923 - 2007
“Music and silence combine strongly because music is done with silence, and silence is full of music. ” ― Marcel Marceau
Marcel Marceau was a French actor and mime artist most famous for his stage persona, "Bip the Clown".
He referred to mime as the "art of silence", and he performed professionally worldwide for over 60 years.
According to Marceau, when he was five years of age, his mother took him to see a Charlie Chaplin film, which entranced him and led him to want to become a mime.
You may not know that Marceau wasn’t his surname. He was born Marcel Mangel.
He and his brother Alain changed their last name to "Marceau" during the German occupation of France. The name was chosen as a reference to Francois Severin Marceau-Desgraviers, a general of the French Revolution.
I was brought up in a Jewish home, but I was brought up to be human - not fanatical, which is something that I don't appreciate at all. I learned to become a humanist and not to dwell on the differences between Jews and Christians.
Marcel was from a Jewish family. They moved from Strasbourg to Limoges after German invaded France. He was 17 at the time. His father was murdered in Auschwitz
He and his brother were recruited by his cousin, Georges Loinger, a commander in the secret unit who was part of the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OCE). This Jewish relief group smuggled Jewish children from occupied France to neutral countries.
Their mission was to evacuate Jewish children who had been hiding in a French orphanage and get them to the Swiss border, where they would sneak to safety.
But travelling with large groups of children was anything but easy.
“He had already begun doing performances in the orphanage, where he had met a mime instructor earlier on. The kids had to appear like they were simply going on vacation to a home near the Swiss border, and Marcel really put them at ease.”
He mimed to keep children quiet as they were escaping. It had nothing to do with show business. He was miming for his life.” Philippe Mora, the son of one of Marceau’s Resistance comrades
Marceau also posed as a Boy Scout leader to trick the authorities.
“I went disguised as a Boy Scout leader and took 24 Jewish kids, also in scout uniforms, through the forests to the border, where someone else would take them into Switzerland,” he said in 2002
When he unexpectedly ran into a group of German soldiers near the war's end, he pretended he was a member of the French Army and demanded they surrender. They did—all 30 of them.
Marceau’s exploits were just a few daring and creative feats pulled off by the French Resistance. The OCE was particularly ingenious: For example, while smuggling children over the border, one Resistance fighter realized that Nazis never searched sandwiches that had mayonnaise on them since the oily condiment might dirty their uniforms. As a result, they hid children’s ID cards in mayonnaise-smeared sandwiches.
“I cried for my father, but I also cried for the millions of people who died….Destiny permitted me to live. This is why I have to bring hope to people who struggle in the world.” Marcel Marceau 2002
Before his death, the celebrated mime artist and actor said…
Today, my heart and soul lives peacefully for the hope that the 21st century will have to face a great challenge, a peaceful struggle for the enlightenment of humanity.
I don’t know about you, but I found this story about Marcel inspirational.
His professional life was about “expression without words”, which we can summarise as “action”.
From this, we can start to understand that it is what we do in our lives and not what we say we will do that has the greatest value.
Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words? - Marcel Marceau
Thanks for reading