There were two major dancing teams in Hollywood films – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and then Marge and Gower Champion.
Marge and Gower appeared in MGM musical films during the 1950s.
Marge was born, Marjorie Celeste Belcher, in Los Angeles, California, in 1919. She began dancing and teaching at an early age.
In 1935 Marge was hired by the Walt Disney Studios to be a live action model for Snow White in the animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
In later years Marge also became a model for The Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and the Dancing Hippo in Fantasia.
In 1937 Marge married Art Babbitt from the Disney Studios but the marriage only lasted for three years.
Gower Champion was born in 1919 and worked as a dancer on Broadway prior to World War II in which he served as a member of the US Coast Guard.
After the war he resumed his career and met Marge, who became his dancing partner.
They married in 1947 and became popular through their marvelous performances in the MGM remake of Showboat in 1951.
Their song, Life upon the Wicked Stage, was a standout in the film. This led to other roles as a singing dance team in films such as Mr Music, Jupiter’s Darling and Three for the Show.
They played the lead roles in Give a Girl a Break and co-starred with Debbie Reynolds. MGM had plans to use Marge and Gower in remakes of the old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers RKO films.
This only happened once when Roberta was remade under the title of Lovely to Look At.
They starred in their own television series The Marge and Gower Champion Show in 1957. They had two children together but sadly, their son Blake was killed in a car crash at the age of 25.
Gower became a very successful Broadway director and won eight Tony Awards in his career.
Marge had good character roles in films such as The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster, and The Party with Peter Sellers. Marge continued to work on Broadway after her marriage to Gower ended in 1973. Four years later she married the director Boris Segal. In 2001 Marge starred in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies and sang four songs in the production at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway.
Sadly, Gower Champion passed away on the opening night of a stage production on Broadway in 1980. Gower had choreographed 42nd Street and after numerous curtain calls the producer David Merrick announced to the cast and audience the sad news that Gower had died that afternoon.
Marge Champion was a member of the nominating committee for the Tony Awards on Broadway from 1991-98 judging all the shows. These days Marge Champion is 98 and lives in New York.
Will we ever see this type of singing and dancing team in films in the future? Who knows – my guess is probably not.
– Kevin Trask
Kevin Trask can be heard on 3AW:
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