Marcel Marceau-William Harris Papers

Authored by Joann M White

Playbill featuring Marcel Marceau from the William Harris Papers

Playbill featuring Marcel Marceau from the William Harris Papers

The William B. Harris Papers are a collection of theater ephemera collected over a period of 30 years. After graduating from college William Harris moved to New York to become a writer. He would eventually be the theater editor for SoHo Weekly News and managing editor of Theatre Crafts Magazine. In the process of doing this work he would accumulate his theater collection. Mr. Harris would die of a massive coronary at the age of 49 on July 27, 2000. His brother John would donate the collection to Marymount Manhattan College, which has a dance and theater program.

 Mr. Harris’s papers are divided into eight separate genres; three are not in the archives at Marymount Manhattan College. The remaining five include unpublished scripts, photographs, posters, one videocassette and the largest part of the collection is in series #2. Series #2 contains 4,450 folders primarily newspaper clipping of reviews, playbills, photographs, postcards, advertisements for performances, as well as personal correspondence. This playbill from 1958 of Marcel Marceau is part of the collection.

The folder containing this playbill of Marcel Marceau also contained newspaper clippings and magazine articles on his various performances. I chose this picture because he was not just a performer but also a humanitarian. Marcel Marceau was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923 in Strasbourg, Bas-Rhine, France, he was a world-renowned mime; his most famous character was “Bip the Clown”. Marcel decided to become a mime at the age of 5 after his mother had taken him to see a Charlie Chaplin movie. In August of 1944 at the age of 21 he would give his first public performance to 3000 troops after the liberation of Paris.

Marcel Marceau was born of Jewish decent and when the Nazi’s invaded France in 1940 he and his family were forced to flee, they would end up in Limoges. In Limoges Marcel and his older brother Alain would change their last name to Marceau to hide their Jewish background. Marcel would study decorative arts in Limoges; the skills he learned made it possible for him to create forged identity cards when he was with the French Resistance.

In 1943 French Jewish Resistance Commander George Loinger would ask his cousin Marcel to help evacuate Jewish children hiding in an orphanage to safety in neutral Switzerland. Marcel would disguise himself as a Boy Scout leader and take the children through the forests, also dressed as scouts, to the border where he would hand them off for the next part of their journey. Marcel taught these children the art of mime because it was vital that they communicate in silence. Marcel would take this journey 3 times, saving more than 70 children.

Marcel’s father would eventually be deported to Auschwitz where he would be killed in 1944; his mother survived the war. Marcel in a speech given in 2002 would say about the children who were killed in Auschwitz “among those kids was maybe an Einstein, a Mozart, somebody who (would have) found a cancer drug. That is why we have great responsibility. Let us love one another”.

Marcel is by far the most famous pantomime in the world. Marcel Marceau (2002) was quoted once as saying about his choice of being a mime was due in part to him being Jewish and many who came back from the concentration camps could not speak of it and that in some way contributed to his silence. He believed it was his destiny to live to be able to bring hope to the world through his character, “Bip”.


Brown, Mary E., “The William B. Harris Papers,” Marymount Manhattan College, Collection #001, Marymount Manhattan College, 2001.

Community of Lights, “Marcel Marceau: A Real Hero,” Marcel Marceau: A Real Hero, 2015.

JTA The Global Jewish News Source,  “Marcel Marceau’s WWII Experiences,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 2015.

Marceau, Marcel, “How I Worked in the French Resistance and Created Bip as a Figure of Hope,” Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. XLI, No. 1, 2002.

Rea, Kenneth,  “Obituary: Marcel Marceau,” The Guardian, 2015. Accessed March 30.