I had the greatest pleasure of speaking with Marge Champion a couple of weeks ago and I have been waiting to post the interview until the release date of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Diamond Edition” on Blu-ray. Which is TODAY (October 6)! Marge was the live action model for Snow White. She is one extraordinary woman, gorgeous inside and out, and I think you will enjoy this interview.
You can see some bonus features with Marge Champion on the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” Blu-ray. Disney did one exceptional job with this release! Now, without further ado…Marge Champion.
Disney Society: I read that your father was a noted ballet master and that you began dance training under him. At what age did you begin dance lessons with your father?
Marge Champion: Actually, he didn’t believe in starting terribly early. But I do have a picture of myself in a tutu at 9 months old. He used to dance around the room with me. I didn’t really start studying until I was almost about 7, because he said that before that, it’s really just babysitting.
Disney Society: Did you always love dance and was it something that was completely natural for you to learn?
Marge Champion: I think it just came naturally to me because of the fact that I was so close to my father and I started going to the teacher’s course by the time I was age 12. I was really working as his assistant because of the depression in those days. He had a new school on Western Avenue and in a depression, people cut out dancing and extra activities with their kids. At least that’s what would happen in my day.
Disney Society: Have you seen the movie on Blu-ray yet?
Marge Champion: I have seen the movie on Blu-ray and I only intended on watching a little of it, and I ended up watching 3/4 of the movie because it was so fabulous.
Disney Society: Can you tell me about the day that Disney approached you to become the live action model for Snow White?
Marge Champion: I had to audition for that [Snow White]. At 13 I was picked out of a class by the studio with two other girls and we all went out to audition. It was in March or April of 1933. I didn’t hear anything from them all summer. It wasn’t until September that I got a call to come over and they photographed me at that time, looking at some story boards and improvising. Mr. Disney, he told me to call him Uncle Walt, because I was too young to call him Walt. His presence was always there, but he wasn’t the one who said ‘You are going to be the model for Snow White’.
Disney Society: I watched a video of you modeling for the Snow White character. Did Disney give you a lot of direction for what they were looking for, or did they just tell you to act out a scene and let you put your own spin on it?
Marge Champion: They showed me story boards and they would be different each time. There was also a different set of animators each time, so it was always a lot different each time with different animators and directors. It also depended on what section of the movie they had me working on.
Disney Society: What is one of your fondest memories of filming the scenes for Snow White?
Marge Champion: I loved working with the Prince and I loved very much working with the animators like Ollie Johnson, they became like family.
They had me imagining the birds in the story or imagining the forest where I had to run through screaming and kicking…the part where I was running away from the wicked witch. The forest was really just a bunch of ropes hanging from the ceiling and they told me just to run. I just have so many fond memories. And Louis Hightower, who was the prince, we danced together on a Broadway show and he was a very good pupil of my father’s. It was always nice to have another character present that I could act with.
Disney Society: Do you have a favorite dwarf from Snow White?
Marge Champion: Without a doubt it’s Dopey. I even modeled for Dopey, which you can see in the Blu-ray bonus feature. On the Blu-ray, you’ll see me doing all kinds of eccentric moves in an outfit that is just like Dopey’s.
Disney Society: Snow White wasn’t your only Disney experience. What are some of the other projects you did for Disney?
Marge Champion: Well, I was the Blue Fairy in "Pinocchio". She wasn’t in too many of the scenes.
I also did the Hippo in "Fantasia". I was actually one of several ladies who modeled for the hippo, but was the only one who actually danced. There’s a new book out called "The Hippo in the Tutu [Dancing in Disney Animation]", that really features dance and how animated dance is.
Disney Society: You have had such a full and amazing career. Out of everything you’ve done, do you have one performance (stage, movie) that is the most memorable?
I do have one very embarrassing moment I can tell you about. Queen Elizabeth came over from England and MGM had sent us over to dance at a reasonably small dinner for the Queen and Prince Phillip. I was actually about 4 months pregnant and I had on a dress that had one strap that was a sewn strap and another one that was a sash. The dress was a white boned dress and one strap went and then the other strap went.
Gower [Champion] saw it and he slipped it back over my shoulder and then took me out of the room. Since the performance was in an office building, there was no backstage to do anything about it. When we came back on, he made a very lovely speech saying that we had to part company because I had parted company with my dress. Since the dress was boned, it had really come down. It hit every newspaper in the city. That was the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me.
The next day, when I went to board the airplane, we were going to go to Vegas and stay until after I had that baby and I was handed a box by the stewardess of some orchids. There was a note from Prince Phillip saying that they enjoyed our performance and that he was sorry for the mishap with my dress. Which pleased my British father to no end.
Thank you to Disney and Marge Champion for the opportunity!
Image Credit: Disney