Marge Champion, the actress, and dancer who served as the live-action model for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, died on Wednesday at age 101. Champion and her second husband, Gower Champion, were a successful dance team, appearing on stage, in television shows, and movies. Champion's third husband was director Boris Sagal, the father of actress Katey Sagal.
Champion died in Los Angeles, dance instructor Pierre Dulaine told The Hollywood Reporter. Survivors include son Gregg Champion and step-children Katey Sagal, Jean Sagal, Liz Sagal, Joey Sagal, and David Sagal. Champion was first married to Art Babbitt, the Disney animator best known for creating Goofy, from 1937 to 1940. She was married to Gower from 1947 to 1973 and Sagal from 1977 until his death in 1981.
Champion's career in Hollywood began at age 14 when Disney animators began studying her movements to make sure Snow White moved realistically in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The all-male animation team needed to understand how a young girl moved, since so many of them usually based their work on their own movements. Champion also did live-action modeling work for characters in Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Champion and Gower regularly appeared in MGM musicals, including Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), Show Boat (1951), Everything I Have Is Yours (1952), Give a Girl a Break (1953), and Jupiter Darling (1955). "We were getting fabulous reviews," Champion told the Times Telegram in 2010. "Gower brought the conceptions to the team and was able to tell a story through the dance routines. I think I brought an ability to connect with an audience."
Gower and Champion choreographed Broadway shows and made frequent appearances on early television shows. In 1957, they even had a CBS sitcom, The Marge and Gower Champion Show, in which Champion was a dancer and Gower the choreographer, with Buddy Rich co-starring as a drummer. They were also favorites on The Ed Sullivan Show and toured the Soviet Union with Sullivan. The two divorced in 1973, as Champion wanted to focus more on their family. "I was 40, and didn't want to turn my children over to a nanny and go traveling," she said in 2010. "Gower did, and was really happy being the choreographer/director he had always wanted to be."
Champion continued working after their divorce. In 1975, Champion won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for the acclaimed TV special Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 for her television work. In 2007, she received a Disney Legends Award. In her 90s, she was the subject of Keep Dancing, a documentary about her passion for dancing.