The world has lost another dance great. Marge Champion, was a legend in the dance world, who when paired with her ex-husband Gower won the hearts of musical theater lovers all over the world. Last night at the age of 101 Marge went to dance in heaven.
Marge, started performing at age 14, one or two days a month (for $10 a day) for two years. Her father was famed Hollywood dance and ballet teacher Ernest Belcher, who taught Astaire, Shirley Temple, Cyd Charisse and was friends with Walt Disney, and the all-male animation team working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Marge, at 5-foot-2 was the real-life model for Snow White danced on screen as the animators studied her movements.
You can watch her thanks to Johnathon Barker. Marge also stepped in for Dopey. She was also the live model for the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio (1940), Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia (1940) and for Mr. Stock in Dumbo (1941).
At 17, she married Art Babbitt, the Disney animator who created Goofy (he was 29) they divorced four years later. She then played Snow White for real with The Three Stooges. Famed agent Henry Willson, gave her the last name Bell and she appeared in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, starring Astaire and Rogers as the legendary ballroom dancers, and Honor of the West.
Moving to Broadway she made her Broadway debut as The Fair Witch in Dark of the Moon and followed that up with Beggar’s Holiday.
Though meeting in high school, it wasn’t until Marge was teamed with Gower Champion that they started to work steadily in nightclubs and alongside Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on NBC’s The Admiral Broadway Revue. Marge and Gower’s first big show was in the “Persian Room” of the Plaza Hotel in New York. Their first movie together was in “$ Mr. Music” with Bing Crosby and their first starring picture was in “Everything I Have is Yours.” Dancing together in several MGM musicals, they are best known for Show Boat, and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage.” The couple also danced in Lovely to Look At, Roberta, Everything I Have Is Yours, Give a Girl a Break, Jupiter’s Darling starring Esther Williams and Three for the Show with Jack Lemmon.
They were so popular that they danced for multiple ads including: Ipan Toothpaste, Camel Cigaettes, General Tire and Kroehler furniture Advertisements.
They starred on their own CBS TV sitcom The Marge and Gower Champion Show. They were regular guests on The Ed Sullivan Show and toured the Soviet Union with the legendary TV host.
Starting to choreograph the couple lent their talent to the Broadway shows Small Wonder, Lend an Ear and Make a Wish. Marge served as her husband’s assistant on Hello, Dolly!, starring Carol Channing.
Marge, went on to win an Emmy for choreographing the acclaimed 1975 telefilm Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. She also choreographed the films The Day of the Locust and Whose Life Is It Anyway? starring Richard Dreyfuss.
Marge also acted opposite Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer and with Peter Sellers in Blake Edwards’ The Party. She played a ballet teacher on a 1982 episode of Fame and appeared as Emily Whitman in the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies.
Her third and last husband was director Boris Sagal. He died from injuries after he accidentally walked into the blade of a helicopter during production of the NBC miniseries World War III. Survivors include a step-daughter, actress Katey Sagal, TV producer Liz Sagal, stepson Joey, an actor and her son, producer-director Gregg Champion.
Marge lived at the Manhattan Plaza and will live on in her brilliant work.