Monday, 5 July 2010


Late last year, I had the privilege of spending three days in the company of an amazing woman: 90-year-old Marge Champion.

Marge, of course, was one-half of the highly successful dance duo, Marge and Gower Champion, whose films include the 1951 version of the Kern/Hammerstein musical, Show Boat and a string of other films - Lovely to Look At, Everything I Have is Yours and Give a Girl a Break - as well as stage appearances and a TV series. Subsequently Gower went on to direct and choreograph (often with Marge's assistance) such famous musicals as Bye Bye Birdie, I Do, I Do! and Hello, Dolly!

Here are Marge and Gower in a wonderful routine (choreographed by the great Jack Cole) from the 1955 film, Three for the Show...

Curiously, Marge's status as a Hollywood legend was not her reason for being in town or for our spending so much time together. She was here to help promote the Blu-ray DVD release of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for which, 77 years ago, she provided the live-action reference model for the film's heroine: a performance that was captured on 16 mm film and then used by the animators to create Snow White's animated likeness in the picture.

Marge and I (as one of the 'Disney Historians' featured on the DVD bonuses) were giving press interviews during which she explained her unsung work on this groundbreaking and iconic film.

The fourteen-year-old Marjorie Belcher - as she was back in 1934 - was paid just $10 a day to act out, in pantomime, all Snow White's scenes wearing the famous costume on a virtually deserted sound stage with the minimum of props such as dwarf-sized tables, chairs and beds.

A line with hanging ropes was set up and Marge ran to and fro, brushing them aside as Snow White does when running th, preparing supper and for the scene in which she danced with the dwarfs including Dopey precariously balanced on Sneezy's shoulders.

Here's a still from the footage, with Disney Musical Director, Oliver Wallace, standing in for Sneezy and Dopey...

Along with Snow White's voice - the late Adriana Caselotti - Marge provided, without credit, the personality of this memorable character in a film that was not just a milestone in the art of animation but also in the history of the movies.

Incidentally, the animators (to one of whom, Art Babbitt, Marge was briefly married) had a composite name by which they referred to Snow White's vocal and physical references - Margiana Belchalotti! Someone said it sounded like an Italian ice-cream sundae; I said it sounded more like the after-effects of one!

Here's the lady herself on CBS breakfast show - it's a bit early morning TV-ish, but you do get to see the lady as she was and as she is...

Marge, who as you can see from that clip, still dances every day has a wonderfully indefatigable, life-affirming view of life.

When I asked her the secret of her long and active life she replied: "Celebrate each new decade of life for what it gives you rather than regretting what it takes away..."

Snow White - Marge Champion

By the way, in that photo at the head of this post, Marge is wearing (though you can't see it because of the jacket) a top with Mae West's famous line picked out in glitzy sequined letters: "I used to be Snow White but I drifted"!


Chuck Munson said...

Thanks Brian for a wonderful reminescence. Marge sounds like one of those phenomenal people who shows the rest of us in truly uplifting manners the joys available in a long life rather than the trials.

I felt a similar positive attitude toward life when I met the lovely Virginia Davis at one of the Disneyana Conventions back in the 1990's. I could kick myself now that I did not spend more time speaking with her as I rushing along to meet my traveling companions for another event. She was a delight and seemed as excited to be there as I was.

Brian Sibley said...

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Virginia Davis and she was, as you say, delightful and, I would add, as bright as a button. It's scarcely a year ago that she passed on and I wrote her obituary for the London Guardian.

And now, I hear the sad news of the passing of another Disney heroine (and totally charming lady) Ilene Woods who was the perfect vocal Cinderella.

Hang on in there, Marge!

Brian Sibley said...

I think the Virginia Davis obituary link in my last comment was faulty - try this one.

Steven Hartley said...

There were four main animators on animating the difficult assignment animating Snow White the princess: Hamilton Luske, Grim Natwick, Jack Campbell and Robert Stokes.

Art Babbitt animated the Queen, and The prince was done by Jack Campbell and Grim Natwick, I don't recall anything about Milt Kahl animating the prince.

I know this since there is a draft posted on Hans Perk's site, A Film L.A.

Brian Sibley said...

Not quite sure, Steven, what you are referencing in your comment about Milt Kahl, but whilst a particular animator may have had a leading role in drawing a character, many other animators contributed scenes and Milt Kahl certainly animated on the Prince - as he subsequently did on the princes in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

Steven Hartley said...

On the draft that was posted by Hans Perk, I only really saw Grim Natwick and Jack Campbell credited on the Prince, and Milt Kahl has been credited for animating the Prince, but maybe some animators had replaced the drawings! I'm not sure!

Brian Sibley said...

Well, I think you'll find quite a lot of sources confirming that Milt animated on the Prince. As I'm sure you know from your studies of Pinocchio, very few animators (even the Nine Old men) ever truly solo-animated a character. A rare instance is Marc Davis who is said to have animated all the scenes featuring Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalamtians.

Steven Hartley said...

Excatly Brian you're right, Hans Perk told us that Frank Thomas claimed to have animated an entire sequence of Bambi and Thumper in the snow and yet Frank only did a few scenes!