The Secret Past of a Silent Performer

As a child, I watched The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evenings.

I have a vague memory of a mime named Marcel Marceau performing on the program.

As a high-schooler, I knew a boy who owned a vinyl LP titled The Best of Marcel Marceau. It began with applause and proceeded in silence to the end of Side Two, culminating in a final round of applause.

Few people knew Marceau beyond his artistic genius. But as a youth, Marceau performed great feats of heroism.

Marceau was a Jew in France. He moved from Northern France to the south when the Nazis invaded. But eventually, the Nazis too arrived in Marceau’s new home.

Also arriving were Jewish orphans in search of safe homes. It was up to Marceau to accompany the children across France’s border to the safety of Switzerland.

I learned of this story through the movie Resistance, now out on DVD.

A good deal of the story is fictionalized. Marceau’s romantic interest is part of the moviemaker’s creativity. Another piece is the representation of the Nazis in the person of Klaus Barbie.

The depiction of Barbie, otherwise known as the Butcher of Lyon, garners the movie an R rating despite the lack of graphic violence.

The accurate explanation of Barbie’s torture tactics is enough to justify the rating.

Not every reviewer gives this movie a 10-star IMDb rating as I did. One especially disagrees with the latitude the filmmakers took with the story.

I’m not so sure Marceau would agree. He was an artist. And this movie is art.

Many today haven’t heard of him. Many also don’t know about Barbie. A quick trip to Wikipedia can illuminate both stories for those who need such clarity.

This film tells a tightly woven story with fabulous performances.

And we get to see a young man doing all he can to save others. A young man, at first concerned only for himself, who grew to fame and fortune and apparently didn’t feel the need to let everyone know what he had done.

That’s true heroism. And we would do well to know the story–even with a bit of fiction added in.

Photo Credit: 10 Interesting Marcel Marceau Facts

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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30 Replies to “The Secret Past of a Silent Performer”

  1. Wow, what an amazing past he had! I am absolutely in awe of this generation… he and so many of his contemporaries showed so much courage in the face of great suffering, evil and fear. Praise God for his efforts and his art, and I think that movie sounds great! 🙂

  2. I had heard of Barbie but not Marceau. I love reading about the heroes of WWII who stood up to Hitler and the Nazi regime. It gives me boldness to proclaim my faith at such a poorly cost in comparison. Thanks for sharing; I’ll have to check out that film!

  3. This post demonstrates the importance of history. I learned something about this man I never knew. Despite the bad events of history, knowing the evil the Nazis did shows us how to recognize when these things try to happen again. It also tells us of the perseverance of those who struggled and their resilience to overcome. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Very interesting. I do remember Marcel’s miming on the Ed Sullivan Show. I like what you said about true heroism – how Marcel didn’t need to tell anyone all that he’d done. A true hero, indeed. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I too remember watching him on TV but had no idea about his heroism. Pretty amazing story. I did laugh at the thought of an LP of his performance. I plan to read more about his life. Thanks

  6. Marcel Marceau was an incredibly gifted mime. It was always interesting to watch him at work. I had no idea that he helped to transport Jewish children across the Alps to Switzerland. Adding Klaus Barbie to the film would certainly give it an R rating merely from hearing what he did. The atrocities of the Nazis still stun us.

  7. Such an inspiring post! Thank you for sharing, Nancy. We need more stories of real heroes like Marcel Marceau. Performing great deeds of bravery to rescue others, without seeking fame or thanks. Truly humbling to hear of such people.

  8. Nancy, I always appreciate how you highlight the stories of unsung heroes. Those little known acts of human kindness and servanthood worth writing and reading about!

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