Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marge Belcher-Babbitt-Champion

A year and a half ago (during the 70th anniversary of Snow White) I regularly walked into the Disney hat building and got to watch black-and-white reference footage of Margie Belcher (soon to be the wife of Art Babbitt ... and then dancer Gower Champion) they were playing on monitors in the hall display case.

Ms. Belcher did a lot of dancing and pantomiming in Snow White's dress, and they had a lot of the footage running ... and I stood there like a slow-witted teenager, gawking at it. So what do you know? Seventy-three years later, the energetic little dancer is still going strong:

The vivacious [Marge] Champion is still dancing at 90. She and her dance partner, Tony-winning choreographer and veteran dancer Donald Saddler, are the subject of an upcoming documentary, "Keep Dancing." ...

Champion made her debut at the Bowl at age 11 in one of [her father's] ballets, "Carnival in Venice." Two years later, she was one of three girls who caught the attention of a Disney scout and was asked to audition at Walt Disney's old studio on Hyperion Avenue.

"He told me to call him Uncle Walt because I was too young to call him Walt," Champion recalls. From the age of 14, Champion performed scenes as Snow White for the animators. "It was maybe one or two or three days a month," she says. "They shot me on 16-millimeter film, and I could do enough in a day's work to keep them busy for two weeks."

She says the process of playing Snow White was simple. "When Snow White was running through the forest and scared to death, they had ropes hanging from a clothesline so I would be pushing them aside," recalls Champion. "If there was a bed where Show White had to go pray, they had a cot there so I could kneel beside it. It was always very rudimentary and very hot lights, because they wanted as strong a contrast as possible." ...

She has a good memory, because that's the footage to a fare-the-well.

But the goof they had pantomiming the wicked witch? Not nearly so riveting.


Anonymous said...

The business agent of the cartoonists union ought to know how to spell Art Babbitt's name.


Steve Hulett said...

I would if it wasn't late at night when I was trying to spell it.

Thanks for the correction.

Floyd Norman said...

We've had the pleasure of speaking with Marge Champion over the years, and she has amazing stories to tell. She's a wonderful, fascinating woman, and still going strong.

Anonymous said...

I hope someone has gotten those stories down for posterity.

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