Dancer Marge Champion, Model for Snow White, Dead at 101
Marge Champion, who with her choreographer husband Gower Champion was among the most recognizable and admired dancers in Hollywood history, died Wednesday in L.A., the month after her 101st birthday.
Champion's death was confirmed by her son Gregg Champion. She had been residing with him since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her mother a dancer and her father a famed dance coach, Marjorie Celeste Belcher was born September 2, 1919, in L.A. Dancing from age 3, she later said, "I never remember a time when I wasn't dancing."
At age 12, she met her future husband at school and got to know him from lessons he had with her father. Before they wed, she was married to Walt Disney animator Arthur Babbitt, leading to her becoming the movement model for Snow White in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), the Blue Fairy from "Pinocchio" (1940), and the light-footed, tutued hippo ballerinas in "Fantasia" (1940).
She made her film debut in the Astaire-Rogers musical "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" (1939), and danced on Broadway in "Dark of the Moon" (1945) and in Duke Ellington's "Beggar's Holiday" (1946).
After divorcing Babbitt, she later became the professional — and personal — partner of her longtime friend Gower Champion. From 1947 until 1960, they captured the public's imagination with their exuberant, wholesome, expressive moves, catapulted to fame by the burgeoning medium of television.
On TV from 1949 and every bit as much a draw at clubs — and on Broadway in such hits as "Make a Wish" (1951) — the couple used dance to showcase their storytelling skills, and their wit.
Among their movies, the couple appeared in "Mr. Music" (1950), "Show Boat" (1951), "Lovely to Look At" (1952), and a thinly veiled biopic called "Everything I Have Is Yours" (1952).
In 1957, they hosted their own TV series, "The Marge and Gower Champion Show."
They stopped performing together in 1960 as Champion's husband transitioned to directing, including such iconic hits as "Bye Bye Birdie" (1960) and "Hello, Dolly!" (1964). They divorced in 1973, though the couple remained close. Gower Champion died suddenly in 1980, hours before the Broadway debut of his show "42nd Street."
Champion continued working following her split with her second husband, winning an Emmy for choreographing "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" (1975) and acclaim for choreographing a sequence in the dramatic film "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" (1981). In spite of her success, she often avoided self-identifying as a choreographer, humbly preferring the term "dance director."
The last of her infrequent TV acting gigs was on an episode of the series "Fame" in 1982, but in 2001, at 82, she returned to Broadway for a grueling, dance-heavy run with a revival of the show "Follies." Her son confirmed that Champion danced into her 100th year.
Champion was preceded in death by her third husband, Boris Sagal, who died in a 1981 helicopter accident, and by her son Blake, who died in a car crash in 1987. She is survived by her son Gregg Champion and three grandchildren.