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Marcel Marceau, the world’s most beloved mime, was born on this date in 1923 in Strasbourg, France. Born Marcel Mangel, he took the name Marceau (an homage to French Revolutionary general François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers) to hide his Jewish identity following Germany’s occupation of France. Marceau’s father, a kosher butcher, was killed in 1944 in Auschwitz while Marcel and his brother Alain joined the French Resistance in Limoges. Marceau began to practice mime in order to silently communicate with the children whom they were shepherding to safety in Switzerland; he would later cite Charlie Chaplin as his inspiration. Due to his command of English, he also served as the Free French Forces’ liaison officer to General Patton’s Third Army. Marceau created his Bip the Clown character in 1947 and established, in 1949, the only pantomime company in the world at that time. In Mel Brooks’ film, Silent Movie (1976), he had the only speaking part when he uttered the word, “Non!” In 2001, Marceau received the Raoul Wallenberg Medal for his work in the anti-Nazi resistance and his many acts of humanitarianism in the decades following. He died in 2007. To see Marceau in performance, look below.
“Mime, like music, knows neither borders nor nationalities. . . . If laughter and tears are the characteristics of humanity, all cultures are steeped in our discipline.” —Marcel Marceau