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Marge and Gower Champion in 1957
|Born||Marjorie Celeste Belcher
September 2, 1919
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Occupation||Dancer, choreographer, actress|
|Spouse(s)||Art Babbitt (1937–40)
Gower Champion (1947–73)
Boris Sagal (1977–81)
|Relatives||Lina Basquette (half-sister)|
Marjorie Celeste "Marge" Champion (née Belcher; born September 2, 1919), is an American dancer, choreographer, and actress. At a young age 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 TV show based on song and dance. She has also done 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.
Marjorie Celeste Belcher 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. By age twelve she became a ballet instructor at her father's studio. She was hired by Walt Disney Studios 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. Belcher later modeled for characters in other animated films: the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio (1940) and the Dancing Hippo in Fantasia.
Marriage and family
In 1947 she married another dancer, Gower Champion (1919–1980). They had two sons, Blake and actor Gregg Champion. They divorced in 1973.
She married last to director Boris Sagal on January 1, 1977. He was killed on May 22, 1981, in an accident during the production of the miniseries World War III. He was the father of actress Katey Sagal.
Together as a dance team, the Champions performed in MGM musicals of the 1940s and 50s, including Show Boat (1951) and Everything I Have Is Yours (1952). 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. 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).
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. In 2001, she appeared as Emily Whitman in a Broadway revival of Follies.
Legacy and honors
- 2009, Champion was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2009.
- 2013 she received The Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards ceremonies.
Marge Champion has been interviewed in numerous documentaries, including for the behind-the-scenes documentary directed by Academy Award-winner Chris Innis, The Story of the Swimmer, which was featured on the 2014 Grindhouse Releasing/Box Office Spectaculars Blu-ray/DVD restoration of The Swimmer. She was also interviewed at a Hollywood film festival screening of The Swimmer by filmmaker Allison Anders for the same release. Champion and Donald Saddler, who met while performing together in the Follies in 2001, are the subjects of a short film about the two dancers leading meaningful lives at age 90.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) (model for Snow White: uncredited)
- The Goldwyn Follies (1938) (associate choreographer)
- Pinocchio (1940) (model: "The Blue Fairy" - uncredited)
- Fantasia (1940) (movement model "Hyacinth Hippo" - uncredited)
- Dumbo (1941) (model for "Mr. Stork" - uncredited)
- Show Boat (1951)
- Lovely to Look At (1952)
- Give a Girl a Break (1953)
- The Red Skelton Hour (TV Series) (1954)
- The Party (1968)
- The Swimmer (1968)
- The Day of the Locust (1975) (dance supervisor)
- Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975)
- Fame (TV series) (1982)
- Hal Erickson, Overview: The Awakening Land, The New York Times
- Harry Haun (2013). "Still Lovely to Look At: A Lifetime Achievement Award for Dancing Diva Marge Champion From 'Walt's Folly' to 'Follies'—at 93, she has all the right moves". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2013-07-14.
- Film Score Monthly “Aisle Seat 3-25: The Swimmer, Wolf of Wall Street” by Andy Dursin, March 24, 2014
- Gans, Andrew. "Keep Dancing Film, About Marge Champion and Donald Saddler, Available for Free Streaming", Playbill, 29 January 2016
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Marge Champion.|
- Marge Champion at the Internet Movie Database
- Marge Champion at the Internet Broadway Database
- Marge Champion at AllMovie
- Marge Champion at the TCM Movie Database
- Marge Champion performing Dancing in 1986 at Jacob's Pillow
- Archival footage from Jacob's Pillow PillowTalk: Hippo in a Tutu featuring Marge Champion, 8/28/2010
- Marge Champion interview video at the Archive of American Television