Marge Champion

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

(1919-09-02) September 2, 1919 (age 99)
Los Angeles, California, United States
OccupationDancer, choreographer, actress
Years active1930s–present
Art Babbitt
(m. 1937;div. 1940)

Gower Champion
(m. 1947;div. 1973)

Boris Sagal
(m. 1977;his death 1981)
Relatives Lina Basquette (half-sister) Katey, Jean and Liz, and Joey (stepchildren)
Marge and Gower Champion (1957) Marge and Gower Champion 1957.jpg
Marge and Gower Champion (1957)

Marjorie Celeste "Marge" Champion (née Belcher; born September 2, 1919) is an American dancer, choreographer, and stage and screen actress. At a young age[ when? ], 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.

Walt Disney Animation Studios Walt Disney Company animation studio

Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS), also referred to as Disney Animation, headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, is an American animation studio that creates animated feature films, short films and television specials for The Walt Disney Company. Founded on October 16, 1923, it is a division of Walt Disney Studios. The studio has produced 57 feature films, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018).

<i>The Awakening Land</i> 1978 film directed by Boris Sagal

The Awakening Land is a 1978 television miniseries based on Conrad Richter's trilogy of novels: The Trees; The Fields; and The Town, published from 1940 to 1950. The series originally aired on NBC in three installments from February 19 to February 21, 1978; directed by Boris Sagal, it starred Elizabeth Montgomery and Hal Holbrook.


Early years

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.

Los Angeles City in California

Los Angeles, officially the City of Los Angeles and often known by its initials L.A., is the most populous city in California and the second most populous city in the United States, after New York City. With an estimated population of four million, Los Angeles is the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Southern California. The city is known for its Mediterranean climate, ethnic diversity, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, and its sprawling metropolis.

California State of the United States of America

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents, California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second and fifth most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

Hollywood Neighborhood of Los Angeles in California, United States

Hollywood is a neighborhood in the central region of Los Angeles, California, notable as the home of the U.S. film industry including several of its historic studios. Its name has come to be a shorthand reference for the industry and the people associated with it.

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. [1] Belcher later modeled for characters in other animated films: the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio (1940) and the Dancing Hippo in Fantasia . [1]

The Walt Disney Company American mass media corporation

The Walt Disney Company, commonly known as Walt Disney or simply Disney, is an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. It is the world's largest independent media conglomerate in terms of revenue, ahead of NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia, which are owned by telecommunications giants Comcast and AT&T respectively.

<i>Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs</i> (1937 film) 1937 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a 1937 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and originally released by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on the German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, it is the first full-length cel animated feature film and the earliest Disney animated feature film. The story was adapted by storyboard artists Dorothy Ann Blank, Richard Creedon, Merrill De Maris, Otto Englander, Earl Hurd, Dick Rickard, Ted Sears and Webb Smith. David Hand was the supervising director, while William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, and Ben Sharpsteen directed the film's individual sequences.

<i>Pinocchio</i> (1940 film) 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney based on the Carlo Collodi story

Pinocchio is a 1940 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and based on the Italian children's novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. It was the second animated feature film produced by Disney, made after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

Marriage and family

In 1937, Marge Belcher married Art Babbitt (1907–1992), a top animator at Disney and creator of Goofy. They divorced in 1940.

Art Babbitt American animator

Arthur Harold Babitsky, better known as Art Babbitt, was an American animator, best known for his work at The Walt Disney Company. He received over 80 awards as an animation director and animator, and also developed the character of Goofy. Babbitt worked as an animator or animation director on such films as The Three Little Pigs (1933), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Fantasia (1940), and The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), among others. Outside of Disney, he also animated The Wise Quacking Duck (1943) for Leon Schlesinger Productions.

Goofy animal cartoon character

Goofy is a funny-animal cartoon character created in 1932 at Walt Disney Productions. Goofy is a tall, anthropomorphic dog with a Southern drawl, and typically wears a turtle neck and vest, with pants, shoes, white gloves, and a tall hat originally designed as a rumpled fedora. Goofy is a close friend of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and is one of Disney's most recognizable characters. He is normally characterized as extremely clumsy and dimwitted, yet this interpretation is not always definitive; occasionally Goofy is shown as intuitive, and clever, albeit in his own unique, eccentric way.

In 1947, she married dancer Gower Champion (1919–1980). They had two sons, Blake and actor Gregg Champion. They divorced in January 1973. [2] [3]

Gower Champion American actor and dancer

Gower Carlyle Champion was an American actor, theatre director, choreographer, and dancer.

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 . [4] [2] She become stepmother to Boris' five children, who include Katey, Jean, Liz, and Joey

Boris Sagal was a Ukrainian-American television and film director.

<i>World War III</i> (miniseries) 1982 film

World War III is a miniseries that aired on the NBC network television on January 31, 1982.

Katey Sagal American actress and singer-songwriter

Catherine Louise Sagal is an American actress and singer-songwriter. She is known for playing Peggy Bundy on Married... with Children, Leela on Futurama, and Cate Hennessy on 8 Simple Rules. In the latter role, Sagal worked with John Ritter until his death, leading to Sagal's taking over as the series lead for the remainder of the show's run. She is also widely known for her role as Gemma Teller Morrow on the FX series Sons of Anarchy, for which she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama in 2011.


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). 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). [5] 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. [6] The couple refused to remake any of the others, the rights to which were still owned by RKO.

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. [7] [5] 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. [3]

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. [8] [9] 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 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. [10] [11] In 2001, she appeared as Emily Whitman in the Broadway stage revival of Follies . [12]

Legacy and honors

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. [14] 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. [15]

Selected filmography

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Three for the Show is a 1955 Technicolor and in CinemaScope musical comedy remake of Too Many Husbands. It stars actress Betty Grable, in her last musical, opposite Jack Lemmon, Gower Champion and Marge Champion. It is based on the 1919 play Home and Beauty by W. Somerset Maugham, which was retitled to Too Many Husbands when it came to New York.

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  1. 1 2 King, Susan. "Marge Champion Still Has the Dance Moves" Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2009
  2. 1 2 Hoffman, Jan. "Public Lives. A Dancer's 8-Decade Arc to Top Banana" The New York Times, July 14, 1999
  3. 1 2 Payne-Carter, David. "Fall and Rise" Gower Champion: Dance and American Musical Theatre, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999, ISBN   0313304513, pp. 119-120
  4. Kennedy, Shawn G. "Boris Sagal, 58, Movie Director, Dies After a Helicopter Accident" The New York Times, May 24, 1981
  5. 1 2 "Marge Champion Films", retrieved October 28, 2017
  6. Lovely to Look At, retrieved October 28, 2017
  7. Giordano, Ralph G. "Television" Pop Goes the Decade: The Fifties, ABC-CLIO, 2017, ISBN   1440844720, p. 57
  8. Hal Erickson, Overview: The Awakening Land, The New York Times Archived 2013-08-07 at the Wayback Machine
  9. The Awakening Land, retrieved October 30, 2017
  10. "Marge Champion Broadway", retrieved October 28, 2017
  11. Rich, Frank. "Theater: 'Stepping Out,' Staged by Tommy Tune" The New York Times, January 12, 1987
  12. Barnes, Clive. "Revivals a Bit of a Folly" New York Post, April 6, 2001
  13. 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.
  14. 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
  15. Gans, Andrew. "Keep Dancing Film, About Marge Champion and Donald Saddler, Available for Free Streaming", Playbill, 29 January 2016
  16. O'Connor, John J. "TV: Imaginative 'Queen of the Stardust Ballroom' " The New York Times, February 13, 1975