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Farewell, Bip

Though my personal disdain for buskers in general and mimes in particular is well known, it was very sad to hear of the death in Paris today of Marcel Marceau. Especially in light of Yom Kippur this weekend, his death was especially poignant. A Jew who hid his identity with the adopted last name of Marceau, Marcel lived some of the sad history and artistic life of France. 

Marcel Mangel was born into a Jewish family in Strasbourg, France. At the age of 16, his family was forced to flee their home when France entered the second world war. He joined the Free French Forces of Charles de Gaulle and, due to his excellent English, worked as a liaison officer with the army led by General George Patton. Marcel’s father, a kosher butcher, was arrested by the Gestapo and died in Auschwitz concentration camp.

After the war, he saw Charlie Chaplin and became interested in acting, enrolling as a student of the School of Dramatic Art under Charles Dullin. Marceau created “Bip” the clown in 1947. In a striped pullover and battered, silk opera hat (signifying the fragility of life), Bip became an alter-ego, and his misadventures were seen in classics such as The Cage, Walking Against the Wind, The Mask Maker and In The Park. 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.” He was married three times and had four children.

Farewell, Bip and Marcel.

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