Marge Champion

Marjorie Celeste Champion (née Belcher; born September 2, 1919) is an American dancer and actress. At a young age, 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.

Marge Champion
Champion in 1952
Marjorie Celeste Belcher

(1919-09-02) September 2, 1919
  • Dancer
  • actress
Years active1930s–present
Art Babbitt
(m. 1937; div. 1940)

Gower Champion
(m. 1947; div. 1973)

Boris Sagal
(m. 1977; died 1981)
RelativesLina Basquette (half-sister) Katey, Jean and Liz, and Joey (stepchildren)

Early years

Marge Champion was born as Marjorie Celeste Belcher 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.

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

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.

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]

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


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.

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.

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.[5][7] 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 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.[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


  1. King, Susan. "Marge Champion Still Has the Dance Moves" Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2009
  2. Hoffman, Jan. "Public Lives. A Dancer's 8-Decade Arc to Top Banana" The New York Times, July 14, 1999
  3. 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. "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
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