At the ripe young age of fourteen, Marge Champion was spending her days at her father's acclaimed dance studio, learning a practice that she would soon turn into a career. But on one fateful afternoon, Walt Disney walked into the studio to find his live action Snow White. Marge wouldn't know it for several months, but that moment would change her life forever as she became known as the young girl who inspired millions of young girls in Disney's 1937 classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Champion would later go on to serve as a live-action model for other Disney characters, act in movies, and establish herself as a respected choreographer. Just this week, she took a few minutes to talk with CollegeMovieReview about her career, and the day that changed it all. With Snow White hitting Blu-Ray later this month, Marge was full of stories from her unforgettable experience; I thankfully, was all ears.
CollegeMovieReview: So tell me, how did the whole Snow White incident come about?
Marge Champion: Well, a scout came to my father's dancing school, and two or three of us were picked out of the class and asked to audition. My father was a very well known dance director, and he had a very large school of both boys and girls. Becaue he slightly knew Mr. Disney...I was pretty much their perception of Snow White. I did the interview in March or April of that year, and I didn't hear [back] from them until September, so I didn't think that I had been chosen. I am not sure exactly what the process was, except that I am sure that Mr. Disney had something to do with it. He told me to call him Uncle Walt and he was very protective of me. It was a great experience that I had from age 14 to 70.
CMR: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been around for ages now, re-introduced to every new generation and truly surviving the test of time. How do you feel now when you sit down and watch the film?
Its an extraordinary feeling. I have seen the Blu-Ray out at the theme park and to see all the bonus feature where they really showed backstage disney, it really is overwhelming. So much has been done to the picture to get back to the original brightness and crispness. Opening night at the theater when they released it on the 21st of December, 1937, I was so overwhelmed by seeing it for the first time. Seeing the reaction, it really was a tremendous hit that night...and I think they captured that in this Blu-Ray version.
CMR: Over the years, you have modeled and danced for Disney in relation to several characters. Which has been your favorite?
MC: The first was Snow White, and it was really quite experimental. They had not had anybody for several years, and I could do enough in a day or two to keep them busy for a few weeks. It was an experiment for them as it was this fourteen year old girl. They turned me loose after showing me storyboards, and just told me to 'go at it.'
Working with the dwarfs was the best part. [The whole experience' was a lot of fun. I had no idea that they were having trouble raising money, that was not my job. It wasn't until many years later that they revealed that they had traced me. But it was up to the animators to choose what they wanted out of the 'footage.' When you are dancing with five dwarfs, they needed some help in looking at it. They could figure out the dwarfs and prince, they [just] couldn't get the movements of the young girl.
CMR: You really thrived in the 1940s and 50s when you were co-starring with your now ex-husband, Gower Champion. What was your favorite movie with him?
MC: I have very strange taste in movies. [In terms of what] was lovely to look at, the remake of Roberta. We did Smoke and Sydney Rise, and it was a very dear to our hearts what happened in that movie. But my favorite is actually 'Three for the Show,' a film that we were loaned out to Columbia to do with Bette Able and Jack Lemon. It was satire, which didn't work too well in those days, and Jack Pull was the choreographer. He was so busy with Bette that we did our own choreography with some of the numbers. But in that picture he did a wild thing, Mr. Coen demanded that we work with the music from Swan Lake. He had just seen the show and was really taken by the music. So he did a number for us that took me up in a chandelier, and he just did some wonderful things in it that I would have never gotten a chance to do otherwise.
CMR: As a famed choreographer, what is your take on current reality shows like 'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'Dancing WIth the Stars?'
MC: If they were called 'dance sports', and if they didn't demean the people who aren't really dancers, and those that have accidents, I would be much more generous about it. But I have much difficulty watching something like 'Dancing WIth the Stars.' 'So You Think You Can Dance,' not so much, they have a team of people working on the show. But ['Stars'] has a group of talented [people] who are working their tails off to do something that doesn't come natural to them - its hard for me to watch that.
Somebody like Jane Seymour, when she did the waltz,. that was dancing. But I don't see why you have to do it naked and have to be negative to the ladies. That isn't dancing, that is sport.
I do think it has brought a lot of people off their fannies and back to the 'art' of dancing because it is something that I see at all the studios in New York. I see them practicing, from nine in the morning until nine (well, I'm not at the studio that late), but until late at night. I go to the studios now and it is called dance-sport. It is wonderful. For them is it an exercise, a new outlook for people who are at the studio.