Sunday, June 12, 2022

Marcel Marceau – The Clown Who Saved Children

By Kathy Kovach

I remember a funny man on my television screen when I was a child, who made me laugh while delighting me with his soundless antics. A master mime, Bip the Clown, aka, Marcel Marceau, appeared on variety shows such as The Red Skelton Hour and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

How could a ten-year-old know that the comedian before her had been, in his previous life, a Jewish Frenchman during the occupation of Nazi Germany? Not only surviving but doing his part for the cause.

He was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, France, to a kosher butcher originally from Poland. His mother came from present-day Ukraine.

At age five, his mother took him to see a Charlie Chaplin film, which captivated him. From that moment, he decided to learn the craft and became so dedicated, that the world would later refer to him as “the master of silence.”

When he was seventeen, his family moved to Limoges in west-central France. A cousin urged him to join the French Jewish Resistance, an organization composed of nine clandestine Jewish networks. By 1940, the holocaust was an immediate horror for European Jews. Marcel donned a boy scout uniform, and his group helped the children in an orphanage escape to neutral Switzerland. He kept the young ones quiet by using his skill as a mime, and he did the same thing two more times, saving hundreds of children.

His parents had been captured and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. His father died there, but his mother survived. Marcel and his brother decided to change their German-sounding name of Mangel and adopted Marceau, a reference to François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers, a general of the French Revolution. After the liberation of Paris, the brothers joined the French army. Marcel spoke fluent French, German, and English
imagine a mime speaking three languagesand became a liaison officer working with General George Patton in the Third Army.

Marcel Marceau would continue his art of pantomime, inaugurated in his first major performance after the liberation of Paris in August 1944 before 3,000 troops. He would go on to become a much-beloved artist and, later, an instructor in what he called, “the art of silence.”

If you’ve ever seen a mime, either in tribute or parody, performing The Cage, Walking Against the Wind, or The Mask Maker, know that Bip the Clown originated the poetic skits. Marcel became well awarded for his contributions. According to IMDb:
In 1959, Marcel Marceau established his own school in Paris, and later the Marceau Foundation to promote the art of pantomime in the United States. His later performances in 2000-2001 received great acclaim. He was made "Officer de la Legion d'Honneur" (1978) and "Grand Officer de la Legion d'Honneur" (1998), and was awarded the National Order of Merit (1998). He won the Emmy Award for his work on television, and was elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, the Academie des beaux-arts France and the Institut de France, and was declared "National treasure" in Japan. In 2002 he was UN Goodwill Ambassador at the international conference on aging in Madrid.

Marcel Marceau lived a full and long life. Besides his decorated war efforts, he went on to enjoy over sixty years in the entertainment industry. His remarkable resume includes actor, director, teacher, and interpreter. As a public figure, he made extensive tours in countries on five continents.

He died in his home in France at the age of 84 on September 23, 2007.

How could I, at the age of ten, know that this funny man was more than a clown? It didn’t matter, because, as he had done for the French orphans, he transported me to a safe place, full of fun and laughter.


A secret. A key. Much was buried on the Titanic, but now it's time for resurrection.

Follow two intertwining stories a century apart. 1912 - Matriarch Olive Stanford protects a secret after boarding the Titanic that must go to her grave. 2012 - Portland real estate agent Ember Keaton-Jones receives the key that will unlock the mystery of her past... and her distrusting heart.
To buy: Amazon

Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother, though much too young for that. Kathleen is a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.


  1. Wonderful post! I knew some of this about Marceau, but not all. Thanks for sharing. A wonderful entertainer and a great man.

    1. I had no idea about the orphanages. It was a great discovery.

  2. Thanks for the post today! He certainly made an impact on the world. It's wonderful to hear about these brave people.

  3. I'm amazed at the strength of character in those people we thought were ordinary.

  4. I remember the mime on The Red Skelton Hour. I never knew this about him. Thanks for posting.