Marge Champion, Dancer, Actor and Choreographer, Dies at 101

Marge Champion, Dancer, Actor and Choreographer, Dies at 101

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The Champions radiated the vitality of young America, looking even in middle age like a couple of fresh-scrubbed teenagers. They were extraordinarily handsome — she a petite brunette with the blushing cheeks and sincere brown eyes of the girl next door; he a tall, slender letterman with a crew cut and a dreamboat face. They were in constant motion, swirling, dipping, leaping. John Crosby of The New York Herald Tribune called them “light as bubbles, wildly imaginative in choreography and infinitely meticulous in execution.”

Credit…MGM

They appeared on dozens of television shows, from the variety entertainments of Ed Sullivan and Dinah Shore to “The Bell Telephone Hour” and “General Electric Theater.” In 1957 they had their own sitcom, “The Marge and Gower Champion Show,” in which they played fictionalized versions of themselves. But their professional partnership ended in 1960, and their careers went separate ways. After years of growing apart, the couple, who had two sons, Blake and Gregg, were divorced in 1973.

He became an award-winning Broadway director, with hits that included “Bye Bye Birdie” (1960) and “Hello, Dolly!” (1964). She took small roles in many films and in 1975 won an Emmy for choreographing the TV movie “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom,” a comedy starring Charles Durning and Maureen Stapleton. In 1981 she choreographed a nude dancer in the film “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times called it “a stunning sequence, created by someone with a deep understanding of how dance and film can mutually enhance each other.”

Marjorie Celeste Belcher was born on Sept. 2, 1919, in Los Angeles, to Ernest and Gladys Belcher. Her father was a celebrated dance coach whose pupils included Shirley Temple, Betty Grable, Cyd Charisse — and Gower Champion.

Marjorie, who began dance lessons at 3, attended Bancroft Junior High in Los Angeles and Hollywood High School. She knew Gower from Bancroft and from her father’s studio. In 1937 she married Arthur Babbitt, a Walt Disney animator who created the character Goofy and worked with her in drawing Snow White and later characters for “Fantasia.” They were divorced in 1940.

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