Marge Champion Wiki – Biography
Marge Champion was an American dancer and actress. At 14, she was hired as a dance model for Walt Disney Studios animated films. Later, she performed as an actress and dancer in film musicals, and in 1957 had a television show based on song and dance. She also did creative choreography for liturgy, and served as a dialogue and movement coach for the 1978 TV miniseries, The Awakening Land, set in the late 18th century in the Ohio Valley.
Marge Champion, a dancer-actress in Golden Age movies, Broadway musicals and television shows, has died.
Marge Champion Age
Marge Champion has died at the age of 101-years-old.
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Family & Siblings
Champion was born on September 2, 1919, in Los Angeles, California, to Hollywood dance director Ernest Belcher and his wife, Gladys Lee Baskette (née Rosenberg). She had an older half sister, Lina Basquette, who already was acting in silent films at the age of twelve. Lina was the daughter of her mother’s first husband, Frank Baskette, who had committed suicide.
Marjorie began dancing at an early age as her sister had done. She began dancing as a child under the instruction of her father, Ernest Belcher, a noted Hollywood ballet coach who trained Shirley Temple, Cyd Charisse, and Gwen Verdon. She studied exclusively with her father from age five until she left for New York. She credits her good health and long career to her father’s teaching principles: careful, strict progression of activity, emphasis on correct alignment, precise placement of body, attention to detail and to the totality of dynamics and phrasing. Her first dance partner was Louis Hightower. In 1930, she made her debut in the Hollywood Bowl at age 11 in the ballet “Carnival in Venice”. By age twelve, she became a ballet instructor at her father’s studio. Marge played Tina in the Hollywood High School operetta The Red Mill. She also sang in the Hollywood High School Girls’ Senior Glee Club and graduated in 1936. She was hired by The Walt Disney Studio as a dance model for their animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Her movements were copied to enhance the realism of the animated Snow White figure. For one scene Belcher served as model while wrapped in baggy overcoat for two dwarfs at once, when for the “Silly Song” dance, Dopey gets on Sneezy’s shoulder to dance with Snow White. Belcher later modeled for characters in other animated films: the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio (1940) and Hyacinth Hippo in the Dance of the Hours segment of Fantasia, a ballet parody that she also helped choreograph. She even recalls doing some modeling for Mr.Stork in Dumbo. When working with Disney on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Champion recalls “the animators couldn’t take a young girl out of themselves, they couldn’t take the prints out of themselves”.
The very first picture Belcher remembers being in was The Castles with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This gave her a feeling that she would really like to do movies but what she really wanted to do was go to New York and be in New York shows. Sadly, Belcher wasn’t tall enough not even for ballet, which is what she trained all her life for.
Together as a dance team, the Champions performed in MGM musicals of the 1940s and 50s, including their first MGM musical Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), Show Boat (1951) and Everything I Have Is Yours (1952). Other films with Gower included Mr. Music (1950, with Bing Crosby), Give a Girl a Break (1953), Jupiter’s Darling (1955), and Three for the Show (1955). MGM wanted the couple to remake Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, but only one, Lovely to Look At (1952), a remake of Roberta (1935), was completed. The couple refused to remake any of the others, the rights to which were still owned by RKO.
Gower and Marge Champion appeared as the Mystery Guests on the May 15, 1955 airing of What’s My Line. Mary Healy guessed who they were. They appeared again on the February 8, 1959 airing of the show. Panelist Martin Gabel guessed who they were.
During the summer of 1957, the Champions had their own TV series, The Marge and Gower Champion Show, a situation comedy with song and dance numbers. Marge played a dancer and Gower a choreographer. Real-life drummer Buddy Rich was featured as a fictional drummer named Cozy.
In the 1970s, Champion, actress Marilee Zdenek, and choreographer John West were part of a team at Bel Aire Presbyterian Church that created a number of creative worship services featuring dance and music. They later offered workshops and related liturgical arts programs throughout the country. She and Zdenek co-authored two books, Catch the New Wind and God Is a Verb, related to this work.
In 1978 she served as a dialogue and movement coach for the TV miniseries, The Awakening Land, adapted from Conrad Richter’s trilogy of the same name. It was set in the late 18th-century Ohio Valley.
Champion has also worked as a dance instructor and choreographer in New York City. In 1982, she made a rare television acting appearance on the dramatic TV series Fame, playing a ballet teacher with a racial bias against African-American students.
Champion appeared in several stage musicals and plays on Broadway as a performer. She made her New York debut in What’s Up (1943). She also performed in the Dark of the Moon (1945) as the Fair Witch, and Beggar’s Holiday (1946) having multiple roles. She made her last Broadway appearance in 3 for Tonight in 1955. She also worked as a choreographer or Assistant, including Lend an Ear in 1948 as assistant to the Choreographer; Make a Wish in 1951, as assistant to Gower Champion; Hello, Dolly! in 1964 as special assistant; and Stepping Out (1987) as choreographic associate. In 2001, she appeared as Emily Whitman in the Broadway stage revival of Follies.
Champion stated “as a dancer, by the time you’re 40 you’re done. If I ever come back, I want to be an actress- it lasts long. But I was 81 when I was in “Follies”.
Husband & Children
In 1937, Marge Belcher married Art Babbitt (1907–1992), a top animator at Disney and creator of Goofy. They divorced in 1940.
In 1947, she married dancer Gower Champion (1919–1980). They had two sons, Blake and actor Gregg Champion. They divorced in January 1973. Belcher met Gower when she was 12 years old in the ninth grade at Bancroft Junior High, and that is when their romance started. Although performances often took them away from California, Los Angeles remained their home base.
In 1977, she married director Boris Sagal. Sagal was killed on May 22, 1981, in an accident during the production of the miniseries World War III. She became stepmother to Boris’ five children, who include Katey, Jean, Liz, and Joey.
Marge wed her last husband, TV director Boris Sagal, in 1977. He died in 1981 from injuries suffered when he accidentally walked into a helicopter blade on the set of the NBC miniseries “World War III.”
Survivors include a step-daughter, actress Katey Sagal (“Sons of Anarchy”), and her son, producer-director Gregg Champion. She also had two other step-daughters, twins Liz and Jean Sagal (stars of the 1980s sitcom “Double Trouble”), and stepson Joey, an actor.
Cause of Death
Marge Champion, a dancer-actress in Golden Age movies, Broadway musicals and television shows, has died. She was 101.
Champion, who was the real-life model for Disney’s animated Snow White and won an Emmy for choreographing the 1975 telefilm “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom,” died Wednesday in Los Angeles, dance instructor Pierre Dulaine confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.
Marjorie Celeste Belcher was born on Sept. 2, 1919. Her father was noted Hollywood dance teacher Ernest Belcher, who taught Fred Astaire and Shirley Temple — and was friends with Walt Disney. This led to the animation team working on 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” studying her movements on a soundstage in order to make their animated leading lady move realistically on screen.
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