The story appears on

Page B2

February 7, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Life after Snow White's model

SNOW White and the Seven Dwarfs" produced by Walt Disney was the first feature-length animation in the history of moving pictures.

The 1934 picture, based on the Brothers Grimm's fairy tale, has influenced generations of people worldwide.

However, few people know the story of Marge Champion, the live-action model for the heroine Snow White.

The then 14-year-old dancer and pantomime artist Marge Belcher, who later became famous as Marge Champion from the Gower-Champion dance duo, lent her looks and actions to the characterization of Snow White.

Over the past many decades, Champion, now 90, has enjoyed a rich and lengthy career within dance, stage, screen and animation.

She began dancing as a young child under the instruction of her father, Ernest Belcher, who was a noted ballet master and one of the first dance directors in motion pictures.

After the success of "Snow White," Champion started her acting career in Hollywood under the name of "Marjorie Bell."

She debuted on screen in a small role in "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" (1939), starring celebrated dance duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Her career continued with appearances in various films as well as stage productions, including "The Little Dog Laughed" and "Dark of the Moon."

She teamed up with dancer/choreographer Gower Champion in 1946 and they were married in 1947.

The Champion team excelled at the art form of "story dance," combining dancing and pantomime and enjoyed huge popularity.

Champion is the only surviving crew member of the "Snow White" film. The star recounts in this exclusive interview how she was selected by a scout from the ballet dance class of her father and how the Disney film changed her later career.

Q: How were you selected to be the model for Snow White by the production team? Do you and Snow White have many things in common?

A: The Walt Disney talent scout came to my father's dancing school and picked out three girls to go to the Disney Studio on Hyperion Boulevard in Los Angeles where we were to audition for the role. I was picked out of about 200 girls.

My father Ernest Belcher was British and a well-known dancing coach in Los Angeles. He taught me proper British manners and how to curtsey within a formal setting. These sorts of things were very appealing to Mr Disney for this character and I was selected.

As far as things in common with Snow White, that's a hard question to answer. I understand her dilemma when a young woman is threatened by an unfortunate circumstance and she has to deal with difficult forces. I was not brought up to be afraid, but I was brought up to be a ballet dancer so when this opportunity came along, I was more than ready.

Q: What is an unforgettable memory working with Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" production team?

A: I'd never forget the first day aged 14 when I went to work at the studio because at that time, they had a football helmet with Snow White's hair painted on it and it was ready for me to put on. In cartoon-animated characters, the head is always larger than the body and they wanted to have the proportion for a visual reference.

The lights in the studio were very strong and by noon I had almost fainted from the heat under the helmet. It also restricted my freedom of movement and affected my eyes, so they realized that it was not going to be practical.

They decided to remove the helmet, gave me a ribbon to put around my hair and we returned after lunch to redo all that I had done in the morning.

They were learning the technique of having a reference model as well as I was beginning to learn to take instructions.

Q: What kind of person was Walt Disney?

A: Walt Disney was a wonderful man. He asked me to call him "Uncle Walt," because I was so young. He was very protective of me, as he had two daughters of his own, and he wanted me to know I was safe and sound while at the studio. At the same time, however, he was very busy raising money for the project which many people didn't have faith in as there had never been anything like it before. So we didn't see much of him.

But everybody followed his directions, because they were inspired by his creativity. I know that he saw the film footage they took of me every day and I learned of his responses and input from the directors and animators.

Q: The film was a huge success and Snow White became a household name around the world. Did you expect at the time it would be so successful?

A: Nobody expected the film to last this long. It's wonderful! I'm 90 years old now, and audiences are still enjoying it. No one had any idea this would be such a lasting favorite, so it's a joy to be part of something so special.

Q: What influence did your participation have on your later career and life?

A: I learned that I could be free to suggest things and it increased my interest in comedy timing. It certainly shows up in "Everything I Have Is Yours," the first feature film that Gower and I made at MGM, because I was free to try things the average dancer can not do.

I tried singing and acting, and learned more about improvisation. But I think it gave me freedom from the fear of being foolish.

Q: Do you prefer to be actress, dancer or choreographer?

A: I still favor the live interaction between an audience and a performer. I go to many stage plays and live performances because to me that is the most gratifying. Films and television are wonderful to look at but, as a performer, live experiences are the most satisfying.

Q: How do you spend your leisure time? What's on your horizon?

A: I am currently promoting a documentary called "Keep Dancing" about myself and my dance partner, Donald Saddler, which is being launched next week in New York. I hope to continue visiting universities for artistic residencies.

I enjoy being able to pass the torch on to young people the way my father taught me. He was called the dancing master to the stars °??? he trained Shirley Temple and Syd Charisse, among others.

Q: Have you seen any Chinese films or animations?

A: I've seen portions at various animation festivals and I find them very intriguing.

I visited Shanghai in 1977 and taught a class of eight-year-olds. I have a great fondness for that trip ?? I met many wonderful Chinese people who were actively involved with the arts.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend