MARCEL MARCEAU

He was a world-famous entertainer.  He was best known as a mime artist, certainly the best of his time, and arguably the best ever, except for the legendary silent film star, Charlie Chaplin.  However, he was more than just a mime.  He was an accomplished actor, tv personality, author, and teacher, mostly in his native France but also all over the world.  He entertained us for more than 60 years.  But, I believe his most significant contribution to posterity was as a member of the French resistance during WWII.  Read on, and you see what I mean.

Marcel Mangel was born in Strasbourg, France on March 22, 1923 to working-class Jewish parents.  His father was a kosher butcher who had emigrated from Poland.  His mother was from present-day Ukraine.  He was a cousin of well-known Israeli folk and pop music singer Yardena Azazi on his mother’s side.

Marceau recalled that he became interested in mime at the age of five when his mother took him to see a Charlie Chaplin film.  He was “entranced,” and knew then and there what career he would pursue.

When Germany invaded France in 1940 Marceau’s family fled to Limoges, which is in the west-central part of the country.  Later, in Paris, Marceau studied under Yvonne Hagnauer an educator who saved many people from the Nazis during WWII.  (After the war the State of Israel, in recognition of her actions, honored her with the designation “Righteous among the Nations.”)

The Nazis captured Marceau’s parents in 1944 and deported them to Auschwitz.  His father was murdered in the camp, but his mother survived.

In Limoges Marcel hooked up with his younger brother, Alain, and they joined the French Jewish Resistance.  They changed their last name to Marceau in honor of Francois Severin Marceau-Desgraviers, who was a general during the French revolution.

Marcel was not an experienced fighter or marksman.  However, he did have a talent that was much more valuable to the resistance.  He was a superb artist, which meant he was very adept at producing forged documents.  As we know, forged documents that looked authentic enough to withstand detailed scrutiny were essential for Jews and others attempting to escape or even hide in place.

During the remainder of the war the brothers rescued hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews, mostly children, from the camps or from hiding places by guiding them over the Alps from France to neutral Switzerland and safety.   Marcel saved many more by providing them with the aforementioned forged documents.  Moreover, on several occasions he employed his mime skills to quiet and calm nervous children so as to avoid capture.

After the war Marcel commenced to pursue his chosen career.  He studied at the prestigious Charles Dullin School of Dramatic Art in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris under renowned instructors such as Jean-Louis Barrault, Etienne Decroux and Joshua Smith.  In 1947 he created his signature character, “Bip the Clown.”  “Bip” would come out dressed in a “striped pullover and a battered be-flowered silk opera hat.”  During the act “Bip” would suffer through a series of humorous “misadventures.”  The character was a huge hit, and it became his “alter ego” reminiscent of Chaplin’s “Little Tramp.”

Marcel became very popular, and he soon became recognized as a mime “without peer.”  During an interview with CBS in 1987 he described mime as “the art of silence.”  One critic gushed, “he accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes.”   Marcel would modestly give credit to Chaplin for paving the way.

Before long, Marcel became an international star, performing what he termed “mimodramas” all over the world. His first tour in the US drew record-breaking crowds.  He made various appearances on tv shows with entertainers such as Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas, and Red Skelton (who was also a superb mime).  He and Skelton performed together in three concerts of pantomimes.  As a young boy I remember seeing Marcel on tv on “The Red Skelton Show.”

Marcel was much more than the best mime of his generation.  For example:

  1. He wrote two children’s books.
  2. He published a book of his paintings and sketches.  Much of his artwork is on display in museums.
  3.  In 1969 he established his first school of mime in Paris, which also included fencing, acrobatics and ballet.  It only lasted two years, but in 1978 he established a second school.
  4.  In 1996 he established the Marceau Foundation to promote the art of mime in the US.
  5. He appeared in several movies, both in France and the US.  The one that American audiences may recall was “Barbarella,” in 1968, which starred a scantily-clad Jane Fonda.  The other notable movie was called, appropriately, “Silent Movie” (1976).   Ironically, Marcel, the world-renown mime, spoke the only word in the entire movie, “non.”
  6.  He became a close friend of entertainer, Michael Jackson who told an interviewer he had always been “in awe” of Marceau’s “skill as a performer.”
  7.  Marcel was the recipient of countless awards, testimonials, and honorary degrees, too many to list here.  One, however, stands out.  The University of Michigan awarded him the Wallenberg Medal in recognition of his humanitarianism and acts of courage in saving numerous refugees, both Jews and non-Jews during WWII.  His wartime exploits were portrayed in a recent tv movie, “Resistance,” starring Jesse Eisenberg as Marceau.  It is available on Netflix.  I strongly recommend it.

Conclusion

Marcel was married three times and fathered four children.  He also had a decades-long relationship with female mime Paulette Frankl who described their long relationship in a memoir released in 2014.

Marcel passed away in a retirement home in Cahors, France on September 22, 2007.  As I said, despite his outstanding 60 year entertainment career, I maintain his greatest contribution was in guiding numerous refugees to safety during WWII.  Think how many people are alive today because of the bravery and unique talent Marcel Marceau.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE IX

We are now entering the fourth month of the pandemic with no end in sight.  In fact, most areas have not even reached their projected peaks.  Doctors Fauci and Birx and most all other medical experts predict the worst is yet to come.  More on that later.

As always, the below information is a compendium of reports from various news sources, including the NY Times, CNN, Fox News, CBS and many others.

  1. According to “Worldometer” worldwide cases now exceed 1.1 million with fatalities approaching 60,000.  In the US the numbers are 300,000 and 8,000, respectively, with 1,300 fatalities just in the last 24 hours. The virus has been moving very fast, so by the time you read this the numbers will likely be higher, perhaps considerably so.  The medical experts are predicting as many as 200,000 US deaths before the virus has run its course, which is truly frightening.
  2. NYS is still far and away the hardest hit state with some 115,000 cases (40% of the entire US) and approximately 3,600 deaths (nearly half of the US total).  To put those numbers in perspective, that is more then 3X the number of cases and 4X the number of fatalities of the next highest state, which is neighboring NJ.  Other “hot spots” include CA, LA, MI, FL, WA and MA.
  3. Clearly, there is a severe problem with NY and the NYC metro area.  There are many theories as to why.  I outlined my opinion in a previous blog, and there is no need to repeat it here.  Recently, NYS Governor Cuomo told the NY Times that he expects the state to reach “the worst point” of the crisis “within a week or so.”   We’ll see.  I have my doubts.  So far, Cuomo’s record regarding the virus has been mixed at best.
  4.  Although some areas are likely approaching, are at, or have passed their peaks new “hot spots” will probably emerge, perhaps in PA, CO and Washington, DC.
  5.  Forty-two states plus DC have issued stay-at-home orders, encompassing some 95% of the country’s population.  Dr. Fauci thinks the others should do so as well, but it is within the discretion of the states’ governors.
  6.  Presently, some 114 cruise ships are stranded off-shore near FL unable to dock.  They are carrying an unknown number of infected patients, but also many healthy ones.
  7. Great Britain reported 708 fatalities in the most recent 24 hour period, a record.
  8.  As of now, the Wisconsin primaries, which are scheduled for next Tuesday, will be proceeding as scheduled despite the state’s “stay-at- home order” and a shortage of polling place workers.  How will that affect the validity of the results?
  9. Tragically, a Detroit bus driver who had contracted the virus from a passenger who coughed on him repeatedly, has died.
  10.  In a controversial action Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has allowed the state’s beaches to reopen.  Officials will be relying on “social distancing” to keep people safe, a dubious prospect.
  11.  As most of you know, Italy was one of the first countries outside of China to develop into a “hot spot” for the virus.  Now, officials feel the number of infections has plateaued.  They are hoping to reopen the country’s economy.  They are considering a universal blood test.  Only those whose blood  contains the antibodies to the virus will be authorized to return to work.
  12. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s views on masks:  (a) Their chief benefit is that they prevent one from touching his or her face, which is a big “no-no.”  (b) They prevent people who are asymptomatic from infecting others. (c) They can give one a false sense of security, so it is crucial to maintain social distancing when wearing them.
  13. Regarding treatments, Dr. Hahn added that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, can be beneficial when prescribed by a doctor.  Also, he noted that using plasma from patients who had recovered from the virus, has had some success, and a generally-available vaccine is still a year or more away.
  14.  A summary of Dr. Fauci’s comments today on “Face the Nation:” (a) We are close to the apex.  This coming week should be the peak.  The number of cases and deaths will be “shocking.”  Afterwards, the curve should “flatten.” (b)  Continue with the mitigation guidelines, especially regarding hand-washing, social distancing and staying at home.  The mitigation guidelines appear to be working.  (c) Before lifting lockdowns we need to be able to do three things: test, isolate and contact tracing.  (d) He only wears a mask in public situations in which he cannot control social distancing with others. (e) There is a risk that this could develop into a seasonal illness.  Developing reliable therapeutic treatments and a vaccine is crucial.  (f)  There is not yet any definitive proof of hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness.

CONCLUSION

Well, that didn’t take long.  Heretofore, I have tried to refrain from politicizing the situation.  As I said, I believe now is not the time for partisan politics, but it has picked up so much steam I feel compelled to comment.  To wit:

  1. While most Dem politicians have refrained from criticizing President Trump and the federal government stressing the positive rather than the negative, there have been some notable exceptions as discussed below.
  2. Cuomo, De Blasio, and Schumer have been criticizing Mr. Trump, the CDC and other federal agencies for their delay in providing needed medical equipment.  This is disingenuous “BS.”  Each state shares responsibility for preparing for pandemics and other disasters.  As I have discussed in detail in previous blogs NYS’s and NYC’s preparation was woefully inadequate compared to most other states, and its officials were slow to recognize the magnitude of the threat of the virus. Remember, the feds have shipped copious amounts of medical supplies to NY, built five temporary hospitals and provided a massive hospital ship.
  3. CNN, MSNBC, presumptive Dem presidential nominee Joe Biden, the NY Times, the Washington Post and other media outlets have already begun their campaign of distortion.  For example, when President Trump enacted the travel ban at the end of January they decried his action as “racist” and “xenophobic.”  Now, in a futile attempt at revisionist history, they are accusing him of not recognizing the threat and acting on it early enough.  Huh?  They can’t have it both ways.
  4. Pelosi, Schiff and their cohorts in the House announced they will be conducting an investigation of the feds’ response to the virus.  Really?  I know the Congress has the right, or even the duty, to conduct investigations, but now, in the middle of an existential crisis, is not the time.
  5. Based on the last three years, I predict this investigation will devolve into another political “witch hunt” leading up to the election.  I say, at least, wait until the crisis has passed, and we see how it has turned out.
  6. As before, most of the mainstream media will support them regardless of the facts.
  7. Their goal will not be to uncover the truth.  Rather, it will be to distort, muddle and obfuscate the facts with the goal of damaging Mr. Trump sufficiently to prevent him from winning the upcoming presidential election.  Hopefully, voters will not be deceived.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE VIII. SOME GOOD NEWS.

The coronavirus has been dominating the news for months now.   To most observers it seems like the preponderance of the news is bleak.  The virus has developed into a true pandemic.  It has penetrated virtually every country in the world.  A large chunk of the world’s population is on lock-down.  The world’s economy has been virtually shut-down.

According to “Worldometer” worldwide cases now exceed 1 million with some 57,000 deaths.  The US still has reported the most cases, almost 260,000 with approximately 6,600 fatalities.   One reason for the high number of cases in the US is the widespread testing, which is now in excess of 100,000 per day.   In just the last two weeks there have been about 1 million filings for unemployment benefits, and that only includes the people who could get through on the overloaded websites and telephone exchanges.

According to “The Hill” there have been in excess of 1,000 fatalities in the US just in the last 24 hours.  In the opinion of various medical experts the US has not yet passed the “apex of the curve,” so things will likely get worse before they get better.  How much worse, no one, not even these medical experts, knows for sure.  Drs. Fauci and Birx have estimated that the US death toll could reach as high as 200,000 before when all is said and done.  Most of us have been quarantined in our homes, except for emergencies like buying food or seeking medical care, with no end in sight.

Amid this plethora of bad news there has been some good news.  There have been many instances of kindness and generosity by businesses and individuals, most of which have been very sparsely reported.  These deeds have been shunted aside by all the bad news that has been dominating media reports.  These deeds highlight the indominable human spirit even in the bleakest of times.

I would like to give these generous businesses and individuals their due.  Below please find some examples, which I have chosen from various news reports:

  1. Kudos to all the medical workers who have been working valiantly and tirelessly, often at great personal danger to themselves.
  2. Kudos to those who are delivering much needed food and medical supplies.
  3. In NY, which remains the primary hotspot, the military has built temporary hospitals in every borough in an amazingly short period of time.  Also, it has provided a huge hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, which presently is docked on the West Side of Manhattan.
  4.  FEMA has been rushing medical supplies to NYC, including 1 million N95 masks, nearly 2 million surgical masks, 460,000 face shields, 1.4 million gloves and 4,400 ventilators.
  5.  In a previous blog I reported on the instances of hoarding and price gouging and the Department of Justice’s investigation of same.  As a follow-up, the FBI has reported the seizure of thousands of various medical supplies from hoarders.  I would expect the perpetrators to be punished.
  6.  Various celebrities have “stepped up.”  The list is too long to include all of them, but below please find a sampling as reported in “Elle Magazine” and other media outlets:

a. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft brought 1.2 million masks to the US on his team plane.

b.  Arnold Schwarzenegger donated $1 million of medical supplies to hospital workers.

c.  Dolly Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University for coronavirus research.

d.  Various airlines have flown Americans stranded overseas home.

e.  The popular tv show, “The Masked Singer,” donated 10,000 masks.

f.  Many professional sports teams and individual players have covered the salaries of laid-off arena personnel.

g.  Leonardo Di Caprio, in partnership with Apple, Laurene Powell Jobs, and others, established “America’s Food Fund” to provide food to “vulnerable” people.

h. Kylie Jenner donated $1 million to various LA hospitals to pay for various medical supplies.

i.  Rihanna donated $5 million to various organizations, such as WHO, Feeding America and the International Rescue Committee.

j.  Steph Curry and his wife donated $1 million for school meals to kids in Oakland who are missing out on them due to school closures.

7.  The waters in Venice are reportedly clearer and cleaner that in recent memory due to the absence of boats.  Fish have been spotted.

8.  In Britain hoteliers are offering free rooms to medical workers.

9.  Entertainers such as Elton John and John Legend have provided free live concerts from their homes.

10.  Many food stores are opening one hour early to service seniors and the disabled.

11.  A shop in Scotland is providing “COVID-19 kits” containing hand gel and wipes to seniors.

12.  In Copenhagen quarantined people were serenading people from their balconies with the song, “You’ve Got A Friend.”

13.  In Spain quarantined people were playing bingo over a loudspeaker.

14.  Elle reported that, remarkably, three centenarians, 104 year-old WWII veteran William Lapschie, a 103 year-old Iranian woman and a 102 year-old Italian woman have recovered from the virus.

15. NYC’s Metropolitan Opera is streaming old operas.

16.  Germany is flying COVID patients from Italy, which has been overwhelmed, to Germany for treatment.

17.  China has been reopening certain tourist attractions, such as the “Great Wall,” (although I don’t think I would feel comfortable going to China right now).

18.  A British couple whose wedding had been cancelled donated their entire catering to some 400 hospital workers in the area.  Note: they went ahead with their wedding with just two witnesses in attendance instead of the planned 120 guests.

19.  In an event coordinated through social media, last Thursday at 8 pm activity in the UK halted and people gave a huge ovation to UK medical workers in appreciation of their efforts in fighting the virus.

20.  In Copenhagen quarantined residents participated in a group exercise workout from their balconies.

21.  In Massachusetts a “mystery man” bought all the flowers in one florist store that was being forced to close and donated them to residents in the town of Needham.

CONCLUSION

As I said, in the face of adversity many human beings rise to the occasion. Personally, I have noticed more instances of kindness than before.  At the present time, for the most part, people are not separated by politics, economics, race, gender, or “tribes” as they were just mere weeks ago.  Most people realize that defeating this insidious virus will require all of us pulling together.  That time-worn phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” seems very appropriate to this situation.

APRIL FOOLS DAY

This is NOT an April Fools joke. It is a legitimate blog.

As you know, today is April 1, also known as “April Fools Day.”  I like a good joke as much as anyone, but I am not a big fan of pranking people on this date.  Maybe when I was 10, but not now.  But, I was curious about the origins of the holiday, and how it is celebrated around the world.

AFD is not a official holiday in the US, or in any other country, for that matter, but it is widely recognized and celebrated around the world unofficially.  Some people love to play jokes and perpetrate hoaxes.  So, if you hear that President Trump has resigned to focus on building hotels and golf courses, or that James Dolan has sold the NY Knicks, or that China has “forgiven” the US’s debt, don’t believe it.  Those would most certainly be AFD jokes.

Even the media can be a willing participant.  One of my favorite AFD pranks occurred on April 1, 1985.  The “Sports Illustrated” cover story that day was about a baseball pitching phenom named Sidd Finch.  At first, the story appeared to have credibility, as it was written by George Plimpton and published in SI.  Finch was presented as an unknown rookie pitching prospect in the NY Mets training camp.  (At that time Opening Day was later in April.)  So far, so good.  But, as one read the details of the story, particularly about his 160 MPH fastball, it became apparent that it was an AFD joke.

A few other famous, or infamous AFD pranks (courtesy of CNN, which many claim is the “fake news” network anyway):

1. Swiss spaghetti – On 4/1/57 a British tv show called “Panorama” claimed that the Swiss spaghetti harvest had enjoyed a “bumper year,” due to the unusually mild weather and the elimination of the “spaghetti weevil.”  This hoax was ranked the #1 AFD joke of all time by the Museum of Hoaxes.  (Yes, there is such a place.)

2. Toilet paper – On 4/1/73 Johnny Carson joked on the “Tonight Show” that there was a shortage of toilet paper. This hoax was credited with creating a real shortage as many listeners believed him and rushed out to “stock up.”

In 2015 Cottonelle announced it was developing “left-handed toilet paper.”  “It cleans just like right-handed toilet paper, only it’s made for (lefties),” touted one advertisement.

3. Google gulp – In 1998 Google announced a drink called the “Google Gulp,” which, it said, would help one to “achieve maximum optimization of your soon-to-be grateful cerebral cortex,” [and it was] “low in carbs” to boot.

All in good fun!

Surprisingly, there are records of continuous AFD celebrations back as far as 536 BC in present day Iran. They celebrate the Persian holiday of Sizdah Bedar, which falls on the 13th day of the Persian New Year, (April 1). In addition, the Romans celebrated festivals called “Hilaria” on March 25 and the “Medieval Feast of Fools” on December 28. In certain Spanish-speaking countries, the latter is still a date on which pranks are played on people. Finally, there is a reference to the holiday in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” which was first published in 1387.

According to Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes, the Dutch popularized the day in the late 16th century.  By the 1700s it had spread over much of Northern Europe, and eventually to the US.

Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated differently around the world. Some examples are as follows:

1. UK – The April Fool joke is disclosed when the perpetrator shouts “April Fool” at the recipient.  Traditionally, April Fool jokes are to cease at midday.  After that time, anyone trying to prank someone becomes the “April Fool” himself.  These AFD customs are similar in other countries whose traditions were influenced by the UK, such as the US.

2. Scotland – AFD is called “Hunt the Gowk Day.”  “Gowk” is Scots for a foolish person.

3. Ireland – A common tradition is to give the “prankee” an important letter in an envelope to give to a certain person.  That person would ask the “prankee” to give it to another person, and so on and so on.  Eventually, someone would open the envelope.  The letter inside would say “send the fool further.”

4. Poland – Traditionally, April 1 is a day to play jokes and hoaxes.  The media participates as well.  Serious matters are to be avoided.  For example, supposedly, a treaty signed on April 1, 1683 was later backdated to March 31.

5. France/Italy/Belgium – The holiday is called “April Fish,” for some reason.  One common prank is to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being detected. (Along these lines, in high school we used to put a “kick me” sign on a victim’s back, although not just on AFD.  Movie buffs may recall that this joke was played on McFly Senior in the movie “Back to the Future.”)

6. Sweden/Denmark – They celebrate on May 1 in addition to April 1. Many Danish and Swedish news outlets will intentionally publish one false story on April 1.

CONCLUSION

AFD can be fun, especially for kids. Even in the current PC era, a little harmless fun never hurt anyone.  That is especially true today as we are all being threatened by the deadly coronavirus.

I recall a few years ago my son told my grandson, who was six at the time and a huge Mets fan, that David Wright had been traded to the hated Yankees. To his credit, my grandson, merely shrugged his shoulders and asked “who for?”

I can remember being both the perpetrator and butt of April fool jokes in grade school and middle school. All in good fun.  I predict that some of you will be victimized today. Maybe you have been already.

Please tell me some of your favorite April fools moments.  Were you the perpetrator or the victim?   I promise you I won’t put it on Facebook.