Broadway performer and Emmy-winning choreographer Marge Champion died October 21, 2020, at the age of 101.
Ms. Champion was last seen on Broadway in the 2001 revival of Follies playing Emily Whitman, a former vaudeville star who sings “Rain on the Roof” with her husband as part of the evening’s reminiscing. Throughout her career on the Main Stem, the dancer served as associate choreographer for Stepping Out, Lend an Ear, and Make a Wish in addition to being a special assistant during the original Broadway run of Hello, Dolly!. She also appeared in a number of musicals in the ‘40s.
The performer started her career as a live-action model for Walt Disney in animated films, including the title character in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, as well as the Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
She teamed up with dancer-choreographer-director Gower Champion in 1945 and married him two years later. The pair became one of America's most famous dance teams of the mid-20th century, starring in Show Boat, Three for the Show, Jupiter's Darling, Lovely to Look At, and more. They were also pioneers of television, appearing regularly on The Ed Sullivan Show, Shower of Stars, and The Dinah Shore Show, and even landed their own series: The Marge and Gower Champion Show.
As a solo artist, Ms. Champion appeared in films like The Party and The Swimmer, both released in 1968. She won an Emmy in 1975 for her choreography of the TV special Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. Her additional choreography credits include Whose Life Is It Anyway? and The Day of the Locust.
Prior to marrying Mr. Champion, Ms. Champion married Disney animator Art Babbitt in 1937; the pair divorced in 1940. Following her divorce with Mr. Champion in 1973, she married Boris Sagal in 1977, but was widowed in 1981 following an on-set helicopter accident.
Ms. Champion was born September 2, 1919, in Hollywood, California. Her father was Ernest Belcher, a dance instructor who taught the likes of Gwen Verdon, Fred Astaire and Shirely Temple.
Throughout her life, Ms. Champion remained a staunch supporter of the arts, becoming Trustee Emeritus of the Williamstown Theatre Festival and teaching master classes at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. In 1997, the state of Massachusetts honored her with its Commonwealth Award, citing her “leadership as a true patron of the arts.”
Ms. Champion is survived by her son Gregg Champion, her step-daughter Katey Sagal, two other step-daughters, twins Liz and Jean Sagal, and stepson Joey.