Apr 23, 2008

Current Love: Marge & Gower Champion

Catching my fancy for some time now have been delightful dancing marrieds Marge and Gower Champion, the sometime-screen couple who lit up film with their inventive, acrobatic, and highly animated style of dance performance in the 1950s, while making their biggest impact on Broadway theatre in that decade and the years that followed.

Perhaps best known for his contributions as director and choreographer of such Broadway smashes as Hello, Dolly! and Lend an Ear, Gower met Marjorie Belcher, who performed under the name of Marjorie Bell, when the two were teens, and they maintained a platonic correspondence while they each pursued their respective romances and careers: Gower toured America with dance partner Jeanne Tyler, while Marge married Disney film animator Art Babbitt in 1937 (she was the live-action model for that year's animated version of Snow White). But upon reuniting years later, the two - newly-divorced Marge and solo act Gower - forged a deeper and more lasting cooperation when they wed in the fall of 1947, after devising various dance routines as a newly-founded partnership. The Champions' involvement in everything from Broadway shows to live television performances and film appearances (1951's Show Boat is among the best known of their films) garnered them a growing popularity as entertainers, and they kept just as stringent a schedule after son Gregg was born in 1957.

The couple continued their involvement in the world of dance even as the receding era of lavish musicals rendered them a less desirable film property: Gower funneled his creativity into Broadway, while Marge opted to scale back her contributions to raise their young son. (Gower eventually garnered 8 Tony Awards, the most ever won by a single recipient.) He died in 1980 on the opening night of his later-acclaimed 42nd Street; Marge, still active as she approaches 90, is a choreographer and dance instructor in New York City.

If you're unfamiliar with Marge & Gower and their dynamic screen presence, I highly recommend 1955's Three For The Show, an overlooked, under-appreciated gem of a film also starring Betty Grable and Jack Lemmon.

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