Marcel Marceau: Master of Silence

One of the advantages of working for The Ohio University Post and The Athens Messenger was access to press credentials to cover some of the best performers of the time. I was fortunate enough to photograph Marcel Marceau when he performed at Memorial Auditorium on February 16, 1968 (if the negative sleeve is right).

Never saw anyone do more with less

I was impressed with how little it took Simon and Garfunkel to put on their concert, but Marceau required even less equipment. All he needed was a stage and a spotlight to hold an audience spellbound.

Show was technically challenging

This was a performance where it really paid off to show up early enough to take an incident light reading on the stage before the show began. If I had tried to use a standard reflective light meter, it would have been fooled by the ocean of blackness surrounding Marceau. An incident light meter measures the light falling onto the subject rather than the light reflecting off the subject. That was my preferred method of metering when I could use it. Luckily, I was able to get the spot operator to fire it up long enough for me to get a reading.

I’m not sure what’s happening

I don’t know if this was taken during a rehearsal, before the show or when. The house was packed for the actual performance, but there was only a handful of people around when I shot this.

“White ink drawings on black backgrounds”

Marceau once said, “I have designed my style pantomimes as white ink drawings on black backgrounds, so that man’s destiny appears as a thread lost in an endless labyrinth. I have tried to shed some gleams of light on the shadow of man startled by his anguish.”

When I looked at these frames, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I’ve never seen anyone who used black space more effectively.

Father killed at Auschwitz

A biography on the IMDb website said that Marceau was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, Alsace, France. At age 5, he was entranced when his mother took him to see a Charlie Chaplin movie; he decided to become a mime. At the beginning of World War II, he had to hide his Jewish origin and changed his name to Marceau. His father was deported to Auschwitz, where he was killed in 1944.

Marceau and his brother, Alain, were in the French underground and helped children escape to neutral Switzerland. He later served as interpreter for the Free France Forces under General Charles de Gaulle.

When he died in 2007, Timothy W. Ryback wrote in The New York Times about Marceau’s concern about the fragility of his art. “Unlike novels or plays or operas, which could be printed, recorded, preserved, the art of mime was a transitory and ephemeral art. It existed only in the moment. And, more unsettling still, essentially in one man, Marcel Marceau,” Ryback said.

Photo gallery of Marcel Marceau

I’m glad I had a chance to see the world’s best-known mime. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery. By the way, while researching this, I saw a link to “Marcel Marceau quotes.” I figured clicking on it would take me to a blank page. Surprisingly enough, Marceau said, among other things, “Never get a mime talking. He won’t stop.”

Martin Luther King Day

In the spring of 1968, I was photo editor of The Ohio University Post and a photography major. One of my classes – it might have been Magazine and Newspaper Photography – had us form up into teams. We had to pick a geographical area, then document what happened in that area for a week. Classmate Lyntha Scott Eiler was on The Athena, the university yearbook. The publications worked out of the student union building on the Main Green and, since we practically lived there anyway, we picked that as our geographical area. We recruited two more team members and set to work.

The first part of the project was boringly routine: college students playing around with dogs, sunning themselves on the War Memorial, just light-hearted stuff.

A gunshot changed everything

The mood of the campus changed in a heartbeat with a gunshot in Memphis, Tenn. Dr. Martin Luther King was dead.

Memorial service changed to sit-in

My team was lucky enough that our area was where a National Day of Mourning service was going to be held. When it broke up, the crowd moved a block north to the major intersection in town at Court and Union Streets to conduct a sit-in. This wasn’t unusual. That was the traditional spot for the annual Rites of Spring riot and anti-war protests. Cops and students would do a choreographed chicken dance, then everybody would break up and go home. Few arrests were made and teargas wasn’t used until after Kent State.

We could have had a riot

This time, though, a redneck Athens police captain decided he was going to literally throw the demonstrators off of his streets. He didn’t realize how raw emotions were. It was as close to sparking a race riot as Athens has ever come. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the students were allowed to block the street for a “reasonable” amount of time.

I’ve been afraid for years that we had to turn in our film as part of the project, but I ran across it last week. I’m going to save the bulk of the photos for the anniversary of the National Day of Mourning to give me a chance to track down some of the students so they can tell me what they remember of that day.

I don’t recall what grade we got on the project, but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen so far.


Glad I’m Still in Cape

I’m not happy to be looking at car payments again, but I’m glad I’m not somewhere down around the Georgia – Florida line. I’ve had a productive Friday and Saturday, although not in the way I had planned.

Friday afternoon, just about the time I was supposed to be heading over to Kentucky Lake for the first leg of my trip back home, I got a call from a fellow who thought he might have been a kid in some photos I shot back in 1966 or ’67. I’ve been chasing wild geese all week trying to get some leads on this. We made arrangements to meet at 5 p.m. After we decided he was going to help me track down a bunch of other folks on my next visit, I had some time to kill.

I headed down to see how much water had been pumped out of the cement plant quarry, but decided instead to cut down Old Hwy 61, which is east of I-55 and deadends at a boat ramp at the Diversion Channel. Yesterday was the first day I noticed that it wasn’t under water. It’s amazing what a few days will do. These fields had three or four feet of water on them when I hit town a month ago. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

Ed and Melinda Roberts

Right after shooting this, I met Ed and Melinda Roberts of Jackson catching bait for their trotlines. We talked for a bit, then they invited me to go out the Diversion Channel and up the Mississippi River to set out the lines. I’ll be posting two days of photos from that excursion: one on them fishing and the other on the the beauty of the waterway.

CT lands in Cairo

Then, to top it all off, I got a Facebook message from CT, a reporter I worked with at The Ohio University Post, saying she was visiting her brother in Paducah, had become interested in Cairo after seeing my photos and was planning on a day trip there. I quickly made arrangments to meet her and her four brothers in town. It was the first time we had seen each other since the late 70s. I’ll have more on that¬† reunion in the next few days.

(I call her CT because her real name is Carol Towarnicky, a name I could never remember how to pronounce when I was introducing her to a subject. It usually came out some variation of TwarkNarky or something equally awkward.) Her brother shot this with my camera. I may have half the hair I had when she last saw me, but I am, otherwise, twice the man (in girth and weight). She was kind enough not to point that out. I knew there was a reason I liked her.

All in all, it was a better time to be in Cape than on the road. Tuesday morning, though, I have to be at the Cape airport to catch a Cape Air flight to St. Louis at 5:15. It’s not like the old Ozark days when you’d call to ask when the next flight to St. Louis was and they’d answer, “What time can you make it?”