“I’d been a fan of mime and I saw Children of Paradise as a young married mother, and some things really just knock you—they slam you against a wall,” author and artist Paulette Frankl says, sitting by her dining room table, the sun catching her face and illuminating her rapid-fire hand gestures.
Her "awakening for mime" triggered, Frankl developed a long-term love affair with the theatrical art, initiating herself in it. Later, as "a drop-out and a divorcee," while living in a farm in Santa Cruz, Calif., she heard Marcel Marceau was performing in a nearby town.
"I could only afford a 26th row seat, which isn't good for mime…because its' all in the face," she says. Still, Frankl was "absolutely slammed with the impact of his depth and the poetry of his movement—he was doing everything on an empty stage. No words, no costumes, no nothing."
Deeply moved and "incredible rocked," Frankl, who had been denied backstage access during intermission, jumped to the stage at soon as the show ended and took matter into her own hands.
She bumped into the legendary mime in the dark, and that chance encounter would soon develop into a love affair, which she chronicles in Marcel & Me: A Memoir of Love, Lust, and Illusion. Frankl presents the book on Wednesday at the Jean Cocteau Cinema, followed by a special screening of 1968's Barbarella, which has the distinction of featuring Marceau's only speaking part during his 60-year-long career.
"Marcel looked at me and said: 'Ah, you are an artist, aren't you?'" Frankl says in her best French accent, recalling their first meeting. "And I thought, 'How in hell's name does he know that?' He looked at me, I looked at him and something connected."
Frankl went back to the farm that night. "I was essentially a hippie farmer," she says, "and I thought to myself, 'How can I distinguish myself from this ocean of humanity that is sending him fan mail?'" Committed to penning "the letter of letters," Frankl wrote him, and several weeks later the phone rang.
"I was so taken by surprise, that my stomach area collided with my throat and all I could do is burp," she laughs. "It was just horrible."
Formalities out of the way, Marceau asked for a picture, as their chance encounter had been in the absence of light. "I thought, 'Shit, he doesn't even remember who I am.'" More letter and calls followed until and invitation was made to join him on the road for a "oneweek blind date."
"I said yes. I mean who does either of those things? It's crazy!" Frankl says. "It was hellacious at first and the greatest height of anything I'd ever experienced."
How exactly does a weeklong blind date go? If Frankl's grin is to answer, pretty damn good.
"I was the queen of fantasy and he was a master of illusion, so it goes almost like an earthquake of shock when you come face to face," she says.
Fifteen years her senior, Marceau was far from Prince Charming.
"He was older than I though, he had horrible bad breath and I was kind of a wreck—I'd been sick prior to that and was on my last day of antibiotics," she says. "Plus, he was extremely androgynous—he had a very lithe and dancerly body—I'd never been with anybody that was androgynous. He reminded me of a woman, and it didn't exactly fit my fantasy in any way, shape or form."
Still, a decades-long "intense" and "rocky" love affair developed. Frankl equates the experience with that of online dating.
"People get an idea in their head: I want the person to be this, that and the next," she says. "They see people that fit the image, then they meet them and it's completely different; so are you gonna wear your fantasy or go with reality?" That, along with the current celebrity obsession overload, Frankl says, are universal themes found in her book.
She remembers Marceau as a "highly insecure" individual. A "control freak" who "had to have adoration all the time."
Still, a special twinkle comes to Frankl's eyes when asked to describe his onstage persona.
"He was completely silent and that was his power; he could project so much without saying a word," she reminisces. "I think that the lasting glory of what he did was he proved that we're all connected, and it's not about language, it's about emotions—and he would touch those emotions and just play them like a cello."
MARCEL & ME PRESENTATION
7:30 pm Wednesday, March 12.
$10 Jean Cocteau Cinema,
418 Montezuma Ave.,