Marge Champion, who served as the real-life model for Walt Disney’s first full-length feature, Snow White, has died at the age of 101.
The actress and dancer was also well known for starring alongside her husband, Gower Champion, in a string of classic MGM musicals and television shows in the 1950s. Her husband won an Emmy Award in 1975 for choreographing the TV film Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.
She died in Los Angeles, California on Wednesday, dance instructor Pierre Dulaine confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.
Disney’s First-Ever Princess Was Based On Champion’s Movements
Marjorie Celeste Belcher was born on September 2, 1919, in Hollywood. Her father was dance and ballet teacher Ernest Belcher, who was friends with Walt Disney and taught celebrities like Fred Astaire, Shirley Temple, Cyd Charisse, and Joan Crawford. Her older half-sister was the silent film actress Lina Basquette. Marjorie attended Hollywood High.
When Disney’s animation team began working on their first full-length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, they used a young Marjorie as a reference.
“None of them [the all-male animation team] had been a young girl or knew how a dress would do this or that or the other thing,” she explained in a 1998 interview with the Archive of American Television.
Starting from the age of 14, Champion modeled for the animators for one or two days per month for two years. She was paid $10 per day to dance on a sound stage so that the team could study how the princess and her clothes would realistically move.
Released in 1937, Snow White was the first full-length animated feature to be made by a U.S. studio. It was a hit at the box office and earned an honorary Academy Award.
The timeless classic also paved the way for more full-length projects, establishing the Disney studio as a global brand. Champion went on to work in some of those films, serving as a model for the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia, and Mr. Stock in Dumbo.
Champion Danced During The Golden Age Of Hollywood Musicals
Renamed Marjorie Bell by her agent, the 5-foot-2 dancer made her screen debut in 1939, appearing in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, which starred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as the legendary ballroom dancers.
In 1945, she turned to Broadway, starring as The Fair Witch in Dark of the Moon. She then formed an act with her new husband, Gower Champion.
The couple danced together in TV shows, Broadway musicals, and films such as George Sidney’s 1951 remake of Show Boat. They appeared in Mr. Music(1950) starring Bing Crosby, Lovely to Look At(1952), Give a Girl a Break(1953), and Jupiter’s Darling(1955).
The pair also choreographed Broadway shows like 1948’s Small Wonder and Lend an Ear, and 1951’s Make a Wish, and she served as her husband’s assistant when he worked on Hello, Dolly! in the 1960s.
In the summer of 1957, the duo had their own CBS sitcom, The Marge and Gower Champion Show. She played a dancer and her husband played a choreographer. Buddy Rich made regular appearances as a drummer named Cozy.
The Champions eventually divorced in 1973. Gower died seven years later at the age of 61.
She is survived by her son, producer-director Gregg Champion; her stepdaughter, actress Katey Sagal; two other stepdaughters, twins Liz and Jean Sagal (they starred on the 1980s NBC sitcom Double Trouble); and stepson Joey, an actor.