Circus Chronicler and Historian, Writer, Graphic Artist
Serge (1901-1992) was, from the 1930s up to the late 1970s, a well-known figure of the Parisian entertainment scene, not as an actor—although his flamboyant personality would certainly have made one think he was a thespian—but as a journalist and chronicler, the author of many books, and a prolific illustrator. He was also an exuberant circus enthusiast, and most of his work concerned the circus and its close cousin, the music-hall (variety).
Born Maurice Féaudierre in Paris, France, on December 14, 1901, Serge was all his life a Parisian through and through, although he had a great affection for London, a city to which he dedicated one of his books, Londres secret et ses fantômes (1946), which chronicled the great city as it was at the end of WWII. He was also fascinated by the world of Gypsies ("Bohémiens," in French), but his books, whatever their subject, always returned to the circus. During his period of activity, there was no Parisian circus event to which Serge was not invited, and his ebullient personality always made his presence difficult to ignore—and always welcome!
He published his articles in several newspapers and magazines, notably Le Crapouillot, a popular satirical magazine, and Comœdia and Les Nouvelles Littéraires, two important literary magazines. But what truly made him a household name were his radio shows: Panorama des Variétés, Les Jeux du Cirque, Jeudi au Cirque, Circoradio, etc. where his inimitable style (written and spoken) particularly rich in flourishes, and his high-pitched fairgrounds barker voice, made him immediately recognizable: It merged perfectly with the rousing circus music that accompanied his enthusiastic descriptions and comments. An entire generation of French kids and adults had been led to love the circus by the sheer magic of his voice.
Serge's graphic style as an artist was also immediately recognizable; his drawings, done in a post-art nouveau style full of fantasy and poetry, gave a dreamlike image of the circus that actually matched his writing style. Serge was not an occasional artist: He had been awarded a Grand Prix at the Exposition Internationale de Paris in 1937. He always illustrated his own books, and his Panorama du Cirque (1944) was published in a case containing eighty original plates of his circus drawings. He was also an amateur magician.
Although he knew and understood the circus, its people, and its history very well, his books, even though they contained quantities of historical tidbits and fascinating anecdotes, couldn't be truly considered as works on circus history. As circus historian Dominique Denis pointed out, Serge was first and foremost a great poet of the circus. For anyone who likes circus, reading his prose, in French, is a delightful pleasure—and unfortunately, it would lose much in translation. His illustrations, however, match very well the poetry of his prose, and can be appreciated universally.
Serge created, with a group of French journalists and writers, the Académie du Cirque et du Music-Hall, of which he was President for many years. He passed away in Paris on October 16, 1992, mourned by an entire generation of French (and mostly, Parisian) circus enthusiasts.
- Serge, Vive le Cirque — Phénomènes, acrobates, clowns, fauves (Paris, Marcel Seheur éditeur, 1930)
- Serge, Rue du monde (Paris, Marcel Seheur éditeur, 1931)
- Serge, Le Monde du Cirque (Paris, Librairie des Champs-Élysées, 1939)
- Serge, Panorama du Cirque — with 80 plates by the author (Paris, Éditions Arc en Ciel, 1944)
- Serge, La Route des Cirques (Paris, A.B.C., 1945)
- Serge, L'île aux merveilles (paris, Librairie des Champs-Élysées, 1945)
- Serge, Londres secret et ses fantômes (Paris, Éditions Ergé 1946)
- Serge, Panache indien (Paris, Éditions Heracleia, 1946)
- Serge, Histoire du Cirque (Paris, Librairie Gründ, 1947)
- Serge, Magie des Bohémiens (Paris, Librairie des Champs-Élysées, 1950)
- Serge, Le vagabond de Paris Paris, Librairie des Champs-Élysées, 1951)
- Serge, Gitanes et Toréros (Paris, Éditions Baudinière, 1952)
- Serge, Amar, Roi du Cirque (Paris, Éditions de Paris, 1952)
- Serge, Paris, mon cœur (Paris, Éditions Seghers 1959)
- Serge, Clowns de Paris (Paris, Éditions des Presses du Temps Présent, 1959)
- Serge, La grande histoire des bohémiens (Paris, Éditions Karolus, 1963)