Marge Champion

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Marge Champion
Marge Champion.jpg
Champion in 1952
Born
Marjorie Celeste Belcher

(1919-09-02)September 2, 1919
DiedOctober 21, 2020(2020-10-21) (aged 101)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation
  • Dancer
  • actress
Years active1930–2001
Spouse(s)
(m. 1937; div. 1940)

(m. 1947; div. 1973)

(m. 1977; died 1981)
Children2
Relatives
Marge and Gower Champion (1957)

Marjorie Celeste Champion (née Belcher; September 2, 1919 – October 21, 2020) 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.

Early years[edit]

Champion was born in Los Angeles, California, on September 2, 1919.[1] Her father, Ernest, was a Hollywood dance director who taught Shirley Temple, Betty Grable, Ramon Novarro, Cyd Charisse, Fay Wray and Joan Crawford, as well as Champion's future husband Gower Champion;[1][2] her mother was Gladys Lee Baskette (née Rosenberg).[1] Champion had an older half sister, Lina Basquette,[2] who was already 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.[3] Champion and Basquette's maternal grandfather was Jewish.[4][5]

Marjorie began dancing at an early age as her sister had done. She started as a child under the instruction of her father.[6] She studied exclusively with her father from age five until she left for New York.[7] She credited 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.[7] Her first dance partner was Louis Hightower.[8] In 1930, she made her debut in the Hollywood Bowl at age 11 in the ballet "Carnival in Venice".[9] 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.[10]

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.[9] For one scene Belcher served as model while wrapped in a baggy overcoat for two dwarfs at once, when for the "Silly Song" dance, Dopey gets on Sneezy's shoulder to dance with Snow White.[11] 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.[6][9] 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 prince out of themselves".[12]

Career[edit]

The first picture Belcher remembered being in was The Castles with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.[13] 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 for ballet, which is what she trained all her life for.[12]

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),[14] 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).[15] 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.[16] The couple refused to remake any of the others, the rights to which were still owned by RKO.[17]

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, with panelist Martin Gabel guessing who they were.[18]

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.[15][19] Real-life drummer Buddy Rich was featured as a fictional drummer named Cozy.[20]

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.[21]

Champion served as a dialogue and movement coach for the TV miniseries, The Awakening Land (1978), adapted from Conrad Richter's trilogy of the same name.[22][23] It was set in the late 18th-century Ohio Valley. She has also worked as a dance instructor and choreographer in New York City. She made a rare television acting appearance in 1982 on the dramatic TV series Fame, playing a ballet teacher with a racial bias against African-American students.[2][24]

Stage[edit]

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.[25] 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.[14][26] She appeared as Emily Whitman in the 2001 Broadway stage revival of Follies.[27] She stated how "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".[28]

Personal life[edit]

Champion married Art Babbitt, an animator at Disney and creator of Goofy, in 1937. They divorced three years later.[1] She went on to marry dancer Gower Champion in 1947. Together, they had two sons (Blake and Gregg).[1] They divorced in January 1973.[29][21] Belcher met Gower when she was 12 years old in the ninth grade at Bancroft Junior High, and that was when their romance started.[12] Although performances often took them away from California, Los Angeles remained their home base.[7]

Champion married director Boris Sagal in 1977.[1] He was killed four years later on May 22, 1981, in a helicopter accident during the production of the miniseries World War III.[29][30] She became stepmother to Boris' five children including Katey, Jean, Liz, and Joey.[31][32] Her son Blake died at the age of 25 in a car accident in 1987.[1]

Death[edit]

Champion turned 100 on September 2, 2019.[33] She died one year later on October 21, 2020, at her son's home in Los Angeles.[1] She was 101.[2]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Champion choreographed Whose Life Is It Anyway?, The Day of the Locust, and Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, for which she received an Emmy Award.[6] She was honored with the Disney Legends Award in 2007.[13] Two years later, she was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame[34] In 2013, Champion received The Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards ceremonies.[35]

Champion was interviewed in numerous documentaries, including for the behind-the-scenes documentary directed by Oscar-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.[36] 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.[37] She still danced twice a week with choreographer, actor, and an original member of American Ballet Theatre, Donald Saddler, who first performed at Jacob's Pillow in 1941. The still-spry dance partners were making a documentary "Still Dancing," which chronicles their biweekly dance sessions.[38]

Selected filmography[edit]

Sources: Rotten Tomatoes,[39] TV Guide,[40] and British Film Institute,[41] unless otherwise stated.

Year Title Role Notes
1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Model for "Snow White" Uncredited
1938 The Goldwyn Follies N/A Associate choreographer[42]
1939 Honor of the West Diane Allen
What a Life Student in Doorway at Dance Uncredited
Sorority House Coed Uncredited
1940 Pinocchio Model for "The Blue Fairy" Uncredited[1]
Fantasia Model for "Hyacinth Hippo" Uncredited[1]
1941 Dumbo Model for "Mr. Stork" Uncredited[2]
1950 Mr. Music Herself
1951 Show Boat Ellie Mae Shipley
1952 Lovely to Look At Clarisse
Everything I Have Is Yours Pamela Hubbard
1953 Give a Girl a Break Madelyn Corlane
1955 Three for the Show Gwen Howard
Jupiter's Darling Meta
1968 The Party Rosalind Dunphy
The Swimmer Peggy Forsburgh
1970 The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County Mrs. Bester
1975 The Day of the Locust N/A Dance supervisor
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1949 The Philco Television Playhouse N/A Episode: Dark of the Moon
1953 Lux Video Theatre Millie Episode: A Bouquet for Millie
1954 The Red Skelton Hour Cameo Episode: Deadeye at the Golden Nugget
1975 Queen of the Stardust Ballroom N/A TV film (Choreographer )[43]
1982 Fame Ann Carlton Episode: Beginnings

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j McFadden, Robert D. (October 22, 2020). "Marge Champion, Dancer, Actor and Choreographer, Dies at 101". The New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e Barnes, Mike (October 21, 2020). "Marge Champion, Actress, Dancer and Model for Snow White, Dies at 101". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  3. ^ Brownlow, Kevin (October 8, 1994). "Obituary: Lina Basquette". The Independent. London. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  4. ^ Thomas, Kevin (August 23, 1991). "Lina Basquette: Her Life Is Screenplay Material: Movies: The Golden Era star who married a Warner, fended off Hitler's advances and became a champion dog breeder takes on her first role in 48 years at age 84". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
  5. ^ Slide, Anthony (2002). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. University Press of Kentucky. p. 16. ISBN 0-813-12249-X.
  6. ^ a b c "Marge Champion". D23. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Prevots, Naima (January 1986). "Ernest Belcher and American dance". Dance Chronicle. 10 (2): 170–222. doi:10.1080/01472528608568944. ISSN 0147-2526.
  8. ^ "Marge Celeste Belcher", Marge Belcher and Gower Champion.
  9. ^ a b c King, Susan. "Marge Champion Still Has the Dance Moves" Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2009
  10. ^ Poinsettia Yearbook (31 ed.). Hollywood: Hollywood High School. 1936. pp. 54, 57.
  11. ^ Nesbet, Anne (July 1997). "Inanimations: "Snow White" and "Ivan the Terrible"". Film Quarterly. 50 (4): 20–31. doi:10.1525/fq.1997.50.4.04a00040. ISSN 0015-1386.
  12. ^ a b c "Marge Champion". The Interviews. February 22, 2019.
  13. ^ a b "Tom Jones to Interview Legendary Dancer Marge Champion at NYPL, 3/15". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Marge Champion Broadway" ibdb.com, retrieved October 28, 2017
  15. ^ a b "Marge Champion Films" tcm.com, retrieved October 28, 2017
  16. ^ Lovely to Look At tcm.com, retrieved October 28, 2017
  17. ^ Haun, Harry (March 4, 2005). "Dance Legend Lingers in a Technicolor Mist". The New York Sun. Archived from the original on October 22, 2020. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  18. ^ Fates, Gil (1978). What's My Line?: The Inside History of TV's Most Famous Panel Show. Prentice-Hall. ISBN 9780139551468.
  19. ^ Giordano, Ralph G. "Television" Pop Goes the Decade: The Fifties, ABC-CLIO, 2017, ISBN 1440844720, p. 57
  20. ^ "The Marge and Gower Champion Show". Library of Congress. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  21. ^ a b Payne-Carter, David. "Fall and Rise" Gower Champion: Dance and American Musical Theatre, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999, ISBN 0313304513, pp. 119-120
  22. ^ Hal Erickson, Overview: The Awakening Land, The New York Times
  23. ^ The Awakening Land tcm.com, retrieved October 30, 2017
  24. ^ TV Guide. 31. Triangle Publications. 1983.
  25. ^ "MARGE CHAMPION TAKES STAGE ROLE; First Part Since 1955 Will Get Her Out of Kitchen."". www.nytimes.com. November 24, 1964.
  26. ^ Rich, Frank. "Theater: 'Stepping Out,' Staged by Tommy Tune" The New York Times, January 12, 1987
  27. ^ Barnes, Clive. "Revivals a Bit of a Folly" New York Post, April 6, 2001
  28. ^ Kaufman, Joanne (May 27, 2013). "Her Animated Life". www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324659404578501521984344536.
  29. ^ a b Hoffman, Jan. "Public Lives. A Dancer's 8-Decade Arc to Top Banana" The New York Times, July 14, 1999
  30. ^ Kennedy, Shawn G. "Boris Sagal, 58, Movie Director, Dies After a Helicopter Accident" The New York Times, May 24, 1981
  31. ^ Sagal, Katey (October 17, 2017). Grace Notes: My Recollections. Simon and Schuster. p. 88. ISBN 9781476796727.
  32. ^ TV Guide. 33. Triangle Publications. 1985.
  33. ^ "Times Telegram".
  34. ^ "Hall of Fame". Saratoga Springs, New York: National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  35. ^ 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 July 14, 2013.
  36. ^ Film Score Monthly “Aisle Seat 3-25: The Swimmer, Wolf of Wall Street” by Andy Dursin, March 24, 2014 Archived July 13, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Keep Dancing Film, About Marge Champion and Donald Saddler, Available for Free Streaming", Playbill, January 29, 2016
  38. ^ ""Gower Champion." Streetswing's Dancer History: Gower and Marge Champion". www.streetswing.com/histmai2/d2chmpn1.htm.
  39. ^ "Marge Champion". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  40. ^ "Marge Champion List of Movies and TV Shows". TV Guide. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  41. ^ "Marge Champion". British Film Institute. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  42. ^ Canemaker, John (October 22, 2001). Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation. Disney Editions. ISBN 9780786864966.
  43. ^ O'Connor, John J. "TV: Imaginative 'Queen of the Stardust Ballroom' " The New York Times, February 13, 1975

External links[edit]