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Disney Legend Marge Champion, Original Reference Model for Snow White, Passes Away at 101

Dancer Marge Champion, who served as a live-action reference model for many of Disney’s early animated feature films, including the title character of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, has passed away at 101.

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The daughter of Ernest Belcher, a ballet coach who taught such iconic performers as Shirley Temple, Gwen Verdon, and Cyd Charisse, Champion, born on September 2nd, 1919, was a prodigious dancer at a young age. By the age of 12, she was already teaching ballet, and shortly after, she was invited to audition for a cartoon… which would prove to be Walt Disney’s first animated feature film.

As she recalled to D23, “The atmosphere was like a giant high school or college, as far as I was concerned. Mr. Disney, for me, was like a very friendly head principal. Now, that’s a 14-year-old’s point of view. I later on learned that he was probably one of the most important men, certainly in animation, and probably in the movie industry.”

In addition to Snow White, Champion would be the live-action reference model for characters such as Pinocchio‘s Blue Fairy and Hyacinth the Hippo for the “Dance of the Hours” segment of Fantasia, which she also helped choreograph. Champion has also said she did some modeling for Dopey, also from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Mr. Stork from Dumbo. In a 2016 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Champion discussed the process, saying “there was no choreography: I was making it up as we went along and showing them how to dance.”

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After marrying Gower Champion in 1947, her career skyrocketed, as the pair appeared in such films as Show BoatLovely to Look AtGive a Girl a Break, and Jupiter’s Darling, but it was in television that they made an even bigger impact on shows like “The Red Skelton Show,” “General Electric Theater,” and “Toast of the Town.” After their divorce in 1973, Champion became an author, while also choreographing such programs as Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, which earned her an Emmy Award in 1975.

Champion was honored as a Disney Legend in 2007 for her work in the world of animation.

In a statement, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee said, “Marge Champion brought all of her many talents to help bring iconic silver-screen women—from Snow White, to the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, to characters in Fantasia—to animated life. Walt Disney Animation Studios owes Marge, a Disney Legend and pioneer in animation, our deepest respect and gratitude.”

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