Marge Champion is something of a golden girl. Not only is she a veteran of the golden age of MGM musicals, but also the golden age of television—and the golden age of Disney Animation, including several of the greatest animated features of all time.
Marjorie Celeste Belcher was born on September 2, 1919, in Los Angeles. She began dancing as a child under the instruction of her father, Ernest Belcher, a noted Hollywood ballet coach who trained Shirley Temple, Cyd Charisse, and Gwen Verdon. Marge was a ballet teacher at her father’s studio by the time she was 12.
A short time later, she was approached with the seemingly preposterous notion of auditioning for a cartoon. “A talent scout came to my father’s studio sometime in 1933,” Marge said, “and chose three of us out of the class to audition for this.”
She was the live-action reference model for the heroine of Disney’s feature-length cartoon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, performing dances, scenes, and special movements so the animators could caricature her actions and make their princess as human as possible.
She later modeled for the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and Hyacinth Hippo in the “Dance of the Hours” segment of Fantasia, a ballet parody that she also helped choreograph. Marge even recalls doing some modeling for Mr. Stork in Dumbo.
She appeared in Honor of the West and All Women Have Secrets under the name “Marjorie Bell,” and became a legend in Hollywood with Gower Champion, whom she married in 1947.
They went on to appear together in hit musical films including Show Boat, Lovely to Look At, Give a Girl a Break, and Jupiter’s Darling, becoming the screen’s most popular dance team since Astaire and Rogers.
The Champions also fixed their stardom through frequent television appearances including The Red Skelton Show, General Electric Theater, The United States Steel Hour The Dinah Shore Chevy Show and Toast of the Town. The couple even starred in their own situation comedy, The Marge and Gower Champion Show, which ran briefly in 1957.
Among their collaborations, Marge and Gower Champion also staged the dances for the Broadway musical revues Lend an Ear and Make a Wish.
After the couple’s divorce in 1973, Marge co-authored two books with Marilee Zdenek, Catch the New Wind and God Is a Verb. She choreographed Whose Life Is It Anyway?, The Day of the Locust, and Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, for which she received an Emmy Award®.
Marge is a Trustee Emeritus of the Williamstown (MA) Theatre Festival, has taught master classes at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and was a member of the Advisory Board of the Berkshire Theatre Festival. In 1997, Massachusetts honored Marge with its Commonwealth Award, citing her “leadership as a true patron of the arts.”
She remembers her Disney days with fondness. “The atmosphere was like a giant high school or college, as far as I was concerned. Mr. Disney, for me, was like a very friendly head principal. Now, that’s a 14-year-old’s point of view. I later on learned that he was probably one of the most important men, certainly in animation, and probably in the movie industry.”