“Never get a mime talking. He won’t stop.”

h1 October 16th, 2012 by jules

“Look at this man. He climbs imaginary stairs. He bows to an invisible person.
He tames a lion no one can see. He plays a violin that isn’t there. He does not speak.
His name is Marcel Marceau, and he is a mime.”

(Click to enlarge)

Have you all seen the beautiful new picture book biography from Leda Schubert, Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words? Oh my. Illustrated by Gérard DuBois, it was released by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook in September.

Schubert tells with reverence and heart the story of the famous mime. “He is the superstar of silence, the maestro of mime … His body talks for him,” she opens. She then asks: “Who was this man who performed on stages all over the world, without speaking?”

If, like me, you know little to nothing about Marceau, you might find elements of his life story surprising. Born in France in 1923 as Marcel Mangel, he and his family had to leave Strasbourg at the launch of World War II. Marceau later joined the French underground, even saving the lives of hundreds of Jewish children against the Nazis, leading them out of occupied France over the Alps to Switzerland, which was neutral in the war. “Using red crayon and ink,” Schubert writes in the informative Afterword, “he altered the identity cards of children so they would appear to be too young to be sent to the labor camps.” In the text itself, she notes that he convinced the children to pretend they were going on vacation and disguised them as Boy Scouts. Astonishing.

After changing his last name to hide his Jewish identity and after his father died in a concentration camp (“My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.”), he studied mime. Schubert then goes on to note his remarkable talents with this performance art and chronicles his rise to fame. She devotes several glorious, sparsely-worded spreads to his magic on stage and even takes a moment to note his offstage personality and sense of humor; the title of this post is something he once said, though it’s arguably not as funny as “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.”

Dubois’ oil paintings (“brilliantly executed,” writes Kirkus), as you can see here, shine with elegance and precision. They are outstanding. This is a book you’ll want to pore over.

The book closes with an Afterword; a note about performing mime from Rob Mermin, the founding director of Circus Smirkus, a Vermont-based traveling circus, who studied with Marceau; source notes; and a note about further reading.

Here’s a bit more art. Enjoy.

“Later, Marceau joined the French underground and its efforts to resist the Nazis.”
(Click to enlarge)

“Marceau became very famous.”
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MONSIEUR MARCEAU: ACTOR WITHOUT WORDS. Copyright © 2012 by Leda Schubert. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Gérard DuBois. Spreads reproduced by permission of the publisher, Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York.

7 comments to ““Never get a mime talking. He won’t stop.””

  1. Stunning…a must see for me.

  2. Beautiful!!

  3. Gerard DuBois, who illustrated this book, shared his thoughts on his blog here.

  4. Ooh, thanks, Rob! So much of the beautiful art in that post.

  5. THANK YOU! I am honored indeed to be here, in such good company and with such good words.

  6. I’m waiting — not so patiently– to see this book. I had the memorable experience of seeing Marceau perform at the Kennedy Center when I was an usher there during college. He was magic.

  7. Ooh, Laurina! Lucky you!

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