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Marge Champion, an actress and dancer who served as the real-life model for Disney's Snow White, has died at the age of 101, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed today. Per The New York Times, she had been living with her son, Gregg (a producer on Short Circuit and Whose Life Is It Anyway?), these last six months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“She continued dancing as she aged into her 100th year,” Greg told the Times, adding that his mother often said “'that one should celebrate every decade for what it gives you and not for what it takes away.’"
Champion was born Marjorie Celeste Belcher in Los Angeles in September of 1919. Her father, Ernest Belcher, was a Hollywood dance and ballet teacher who was friendly with Walt Disney and the all-male animation team for 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At the age of 14, Champion dressed up as the titular character and danced two days out of the month for the animators, so that they could study and replicate her movements in their drawings. This process went on for two years, and she was paid $10 for each day of work and also served as the model for the dwarf known as Dopey.
"It really gave me a sense of being in a movie without actually being on film, which pleased my father because he wanted to have graduated from high school," she remarked during a 2013 interview. "He didn't mind me being in his ballets in the summertime ... Those were things where he could keep his eye on me ... There must've been about 200 girls who auditioned for it. They were wonderful dances or they looked right for the part, some of them, but they hadn't had that training that I had, which didn't embarrass me at all. It was part of my growing up."
In 2009, she said: "They put a real loose coat on me once and had me do Dopey for about an hour and a half. I really made a very good Dopey."
After Snow White, Champion modeled for several other famous Disney characters: the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio (1940), Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia (1940), and Mr. Stock in Dumbo (1941). She enjoyed a long-running career in the world of dance, partnering up with her husband, Gower Champion (he passed away in 1980), for shows, films, and Broadway musicals. When she became a professional performer, Champion adopted the stage name Marjorie Bell at the suggestion of her agent, Henry Wilson (recently portrayed by Jim Parsons in Ryan Murphy's Hollywood).
Champion is survived by her aforementioned son and stepdaughter Katey Sagal (Peggy Bundy on Married With Children and the voice of Leela on Futurama).