Disney Legend Marge Champion has passed away at the age of 101. In the Disney community, she was a part of the golden age of animation as a live-action reference model for animators in many of the original classic Disney animated movies. Her death was shared to the world be a statement from her son, Gregg Champion.
“My Mother, Marge Champion passed away peacefully on Wednesday afternoon at our home in Los Angeles where she had been living with us for the last 6 months,” the statement read.
Marge Champion was an actress and dancer who was the live-action model for Disney characters like Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She would also help bring Dopey to life in the film. She also provided the live-action reference for animators in Pinocchio, for the blue fairy. In Fantasia, Champion helped choreograph and bring to life through her live-action reference Hyacinth the Hippo from the “Dance of the Hours.” In Dumbo, her acting helped bring to life Mr. Stork.
Marge Champion was born on September 2, 1919, in Los Angeles, California. Her father Ernest Belcher, was a ballet coach who taught people like Shirley Temple, Cyd Charisse, and Gwen Verdon. Champion also found herself interested in ballet at an early age and learned from her father. By the age of 12, she was teaching at his studio. Soon after, a talent scout had sought her out to audition for a cartoon. The idea seemed ridiculous to champion. However, this would be the first step to her working with Walt Disney.
“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,” Champion recalled.
At Disney, Champion was the live-action reference model for Snow White. She would provide the movements that Snow White would be doing in the movie so that animators could see what the movements looked like, how her dress would move, and then make the animated character look as life-like as possible in animation form. Champion told Entertainment Weekly in 2016, “There was no choreography: I was making it up as we went along and showing them how to dance.”
As time went by, she would appear in films like Honor of the West and All Women Have Secrets using the name Marjorie Bell. Her career really took off when she and Gower Champion embarked together on a creative partnership that would end up with them marrying in 1947. Together as Gower & Bell, they appeared in several hit films like Show Boat, Lovely to Look At, Give a Girl a Break, and Jupiter’s Darling and were seen as the best dance couple since Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Their popularity wasn’t confined to the big screen though. On television, the Gowers appeared on shows like The Red Skelton Show, General Electric Theater, The United States Steel Hour, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, and Toast of the Town. They also had a show of their own called The Marge and Gower Champion Show. They also worked together in the theater where they staged dances for Lend an Ear and Make a Wish, a Broadway musical review.
The couple ended up divorcing in 1973. Marge Champion continued to create. She co-wrote two books with Marilee Zdenek, Catch the New Wind and God Is a Verb. She also went on to choreograph Whose Life Is It Anyway?, The Day of the Locust, and Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. The last one earned her Emmy Award.
“She continued dancing as she aged into her 100th year and always had a positive outlook often stating that ‘one should celebrate every decade for what it gives you and not for what it takes away,’” Gregg Champion shared of his mother. He also shared that her motto was always “Keep Dancing!”
In 2007, The Walt Disney Company honored Marge Champion as a Disney Legend. This is an illustrious honor for those that have made extraordinary and integral contributions to The Walt Disney Company. The first Disney Legend was Fred McMurray in 198. Other Disney legends include animators, Imagineers, executives, musicians, and other people of note in The Walt Disney Company.
“Marge Champion brought all of her many talents to help bring iconic silver-screen women—from Snow White, to the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, to characters in Fantasia—to animated life,” Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer, Walt Disney Animation Studios, said. “Walt Disney Animation Studios owes Marge, a Disney Legend and pioneer in animation, our deepest respect and gratitude.”
Marge Champion was survived by her son Gregg Champion, daughter-in-law Christine Champion, and grandkids Dylan Gower Champion and Alana Blake Champion.