PARIS (Reuters) - A planned sale of costumes, books, art and a battered old hat left by France's Marcel Marceau, one of the world's most famous mime artists, has caused an uproar among fans fighting to keep his legacy intact.
A Paris court ordered the auction to pay off debts left by Marceau, who pumped his money into theater productions and went bankrupt before he died in 2007 aged 84.
But Marceau had wanted the French state to preserve his belongings and transform his house into a cultural space for troupes from all over the world, said his former assistant, Valerie Bochenek.
"A man who for 60 years carried the French flag out into the world deserves to have his legacy and his archives preserved, and not to be dispersed," Bochenek told Reuters on Sunday.
In the character of Bip, a clown who opened invisible doors, became trapped in invisible cages and danced the tango with invisible pickpockets, Marceau charmed audiences and inspired generations of entertainers.
Together with other fans and colleagues, Bochenek has launched a last-ditch appeal for donations to buy as many items as possible and display them in a museum.
Their aim is to gather 100,000 euros through a website (www.unmuseepourbip.com) before the sale opens on Tuesday.
This would allow them to snap up objects such as Marceau's famous hat with a jaunty red flower, estimated at 800-1000 euros in the sale, which he wore together with a striped top and white trousers, estimated at 1,500-3,000 euros.
"The most important objects are his personal effects, his hat of course, his costumes, and also his library of books about mime," Bochenek said, declining to specify how much money they had collected to far.
Other items include Japanese masks, art, photos, posters and Judaica -- a reminder of the dramatic personal history of Marceau, who was born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg in 1923 and whose father died in a Nazi concentration camp.
Auction house Neret-Minet Tessier, which is organizing the sale, described it as a "moving testimony."
"This exceptional sale will pay homage to one of the most fabulous French artists of the 20th century, whose poetry and genius crossed borders," the auction catalog said.
Editing by Andrew Roche