Marge Champion made her feature film debut in a bit part in the 1938 youth problem film DELINQUENT PARENTS. In the film, a young woman (Marjorie Reynolds) is forced to keep her marriage and past indiscretions a secret from those she loves. Champion appeared as a dancer in the film, under the name Marjorie Bell. Nick Grinde directed the 1938 release, which had a stock music score.
THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE was a biopic of the husband-and-wife team of ballroom dancers and dance teachers who appeared on Broadway and in silent films in the early 20th century. The couple reached the peak of their popularity in Irving Berlin's first Broadway show, “Watch Your Step” (1914), in which they refined and popularized the Foxtrot.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred as the couple in this 1939 film, their last as a team for RKO. Again appearing as Marjorie Bell, Marge Champion played Irene Castle’s friend in the film. H.C. Potter directed the picture. Between dance numbers, Robert Russell Bennett provided the uncredited background score.
After having some small roles in four additional 1939 films, Marjorie Bell left Hollywood and moved to New York, where she made several appearances in Broadway shows. In 1947, she married Gower Champion, who became her second husband. She had originally met Gower when she was 15 years old in the ninth grade at Bancroft Junior High, and that was when their romance started.
The couple returned to Hollywood in 1950, and, billed as “Marge and Gower Champion,” had their first major roles in 1951’s SHOW BOAT. The pair played dancers “Ellie May Shipley” and “Frank Schultz,” who were friends of “Magnolia” (Kathryn Grayson). Here, they are introduced by “Cap’n Andy” (Joe E. Brown) and later provide a sample of their terpsichore.
SHOW BOAT was directed by George Sidney. Adolph Deutsch and Conrad Salinger received an Oscar nomination for “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.” They lost to Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin for AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. SHOW BOAT’s Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein songs were first released in an album of EPs by MGM. The most recent CD release of the expanded soundtrack came from Rhino in 1995. SHOW BOAT was the third-highest-grossing film of the year, with a $15.1 million take.
Lux Radio Theater broadcast a 60-minute radio adaptation of the film on February 11, 1952, with Ava Gardner, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, and William Warfield reprising their film roles.
Marge and Gower Champion next appeared in the 1952 musical LOVELY TO LOOK AT, another musical starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel from SHOW BOAT. It also marked the motion picture debut of Zsa Zsa Gabor. The film was an adaptation of the 1933 Jerome Kern stage musical "Roberta," although the play's plot was almost entirely changed for the film.
In the film, Broadway producer “Tony Naylor” (Keel) and his partners, writers “Al Marsh” (Red Skelton) and “Jerry Ralby” (Gower Champion), throw a party for potential backers of their new show, but cannot raise a penny because they have no startup money. Their problem is soon seemingly solved when Al receives a letter from Paris, informing him that his aunt Roberta, a famed couturier, has died and left half of her business to him. The men leave immediately for France, hoping to sell Al’s half of the business and finance their show. Once in Paris, though, they learn that sisters “Stephanie” (Grayson) and “Clarisse” (Marge Champion), who are Roberta’s adopted nieces, cannot buy Al out because the once elegant dress salon is now badly in debt.
Gower Champion, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Red Skelton, and Marge Champion in LOVELY TO LOOK AT
The musical's best-known song, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," is utilized much as it had been in the film's predecessor, ROBERTA (1935). In both films, the song is heard as a stand-alone performance by the leading lady (Irene Dunne in the earlier film, Kathryn Grayson in this one), and is reprised for the dance duet of the secondary leads (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the earlier film, Marge and Gower Champion here). But in this film, the Champions' duet appears first, minus any vocal -- likely due to the fact that the song was by then already so well-known -- while Grayson's vocal doesn't occur until the final third of the film.
Mervyn LeRoy directed the picture. Jerome Kern's score was orchestrated by Leo Arnaud and conducted by Carmen Dragon and Saul Chaplin. The most recent release of the film's music was by Rhino Handmade in 2003. LOVELY TO LOOK AT pushed its way into the top 30 films of the year with a $7.1 million gross.
Marge and Gower Champion had the lead roles in a film for the first time with 1952’s EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS. In the film, just before married dancers “Pamela” (Marge) and “Chuck Hubbard” (Gower) make their Broadway debut in “Alec Tackabury’s” (Dennis O’Keefe’s) new show, Pam is nervous, exhausted and unable to eat. She later finds out she is pregnant, forcing Chuck to dance with a new partner, understudy “Sybil Meriden” (Monica Lewis).
Dennis O'Keefe and Marge Champion in EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS
Robert Z. Leonard directed the film, which was written and produced by George Wells. Five songs from the score were released on an MGM 10-inch LP. Four of these were later re-released by MCA on LP, cassette and CD in 1986. The film was not a top tier MGM musical, and barely made a bent at the box office.
Marge and Gower Champion starred in 1953's GIVE A GIRL A BREAK. In the film, Gower played “Ted Sturgis,” a harried young director-choreographer, and Marge was his former dancing partner “Madelyn Corlane.” Bob Fosse was Ted’s assistant, "Bob Dowdy," who is smitten with pretty young dancer "Suzy Doolittle" (Debbie Reynolds).
Gower and Marge Champion in GIVE A GIRL A BREAK
Although director Stanley Donen and Gower Champion were credited with staging the musical numbers, Bob Fosse insisted on doing the choreography for his own dance scenes. The film was one of the modestly budgeted, B movie musicals MGM used in its golden age as a showcase for what they hoped were up and coming talents (as well as efficiently using contract players and existing sets). With a gross of only $2.3 million, the film bombed and lost over $1 million. That pretty much ended MGM's attempt at making stars of Gower and Marge Champion. MGM Records did not release a soundtrack album of the Burton Lane – Ira Gershwin score.
In their third film with Howard Keel, the Champions co-starred in the 1955 musical JUPITER’S DARLING. The opening credits contain the following written prologue: "In 216 B.C., Hannibal the Barbarian marched on Rome. The history of this great march has always been confused. This picture will do nothing to clear it up."
In ancient Rome, “Horatio the historian” (Richard Haydn) recalls the day that “Fabius Maximus” (George Sanders) was crowned dictator: Addressing the crowd, Fabius vows to slay the ruthless invader “Hannibal of Carthage” (Howard Keel), whose legions have devastated the country's northern provinces. Fabius' intended bride “Amytis” (Esther Williams) is not present to hear his victory speech, however, having spent the morning happily racing her chariot through the countryside. Summoned for the rest of the day's festivities, Amytis goes to the temple with her slave “Meta” (Marge Champion), but they are too late to attend the ceremony and decide to go shopping instead. While strolling through the marketplace, they come across a slave auction, and Meta is immediately smitten with “Varius” (Gower Champion), a handsome slave captured from Hannibal's army.
Marge and Gower Champion in JUPITER’S DARLING
George Sidney directed the film, his second with Marge Champion. David Rose arranged and conducted the music, which did not get a release. The expensive film grossed $4.3 million at the box office, but still lost $2.2 million for MGM.
Esther Williams refused to do a scene where Amytis rides a horse off a cliff, and MGM refused to cut the scene. So, platform diver Al Lewin did the stunt in one take - and broke his back in the process. JUPITER’S DARLING was Williams' last swimming role, and her last film for MGM. It was also the final MGM film for Marge and Gower Champion.
In the musical comedy THREE FOR THE SHOW, the husband and wife musical team of “Julie” (Betty Grable) and “Vernon Lowndes” (Gower Champion) excitedly anticipate a vacation after the close of their long-running show. On closing night, airman “Martin ‘Marty’ Stewart” (Jack Lemmon), Vernon’s writing partner and Julie’s former husband, who was reported killed in Korea two years earlier, shows up at the theater. Stunned, Julie promptly faints, but is revived by friend and dance partner “Gwen Howard” (Marge Champion), who encourages Julie to tell Vernon of Marty’s miraculous return. Vernon is astonished by the news that Marty has spent the past two years marooned on a desert island and is in perfect health, but neither he nor Julie has the nerve to admit their marriage to Marty.
H.C. Potter directed the 1955 Columbia release. Mercury Records issued a 10-inch LP of the soundtrack, which would be the only contemporary soundtrack album released from a Betty Grable film. It has not been re-issued on CD.
The film marked the final screen appearance of Gower Champion and the last joint film appearance of the husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion. During the spring of 1957, the Champions had their own TV series, “The Marge and Gower Champion Show,” a situation comedy with song and dance numbers. Marge played a dancer and Gower a choreographer. It was not renewed. Gower would turn his attention to the stage, becoming a famous Broadway choreographer and director. Marge made guest appearances on various television dramatic anthology shows through the end of the 1950s.
Marge Champion returned to the screen in 1968. “Hrundi V. Bakshi” (Peter Sellers), an actor on the New Delhi stage, is brought to Hollywood to play the title role in “Son of Gunga Din.” Bakshi is a bungler, however, and before long he has accidentally blown up the picture's most expensive location set. The enraged studio head, “Fred Clutterbuck” (J. Edward McKinley), vows that the Indian will never work in Hollywood again and writes his name on a slip of paper. Clutterbuck's secretary, however, misinterprets the memo and adds Bakshi's name to the guest list for THE PARTY, a lavish affair that her boss is giving at his home. Champion has a supporting role as “Rosalind Dunphy,” the uppity wife of “Congressman Dunphy” (Thomas W. Quine).
Peter Sellers, Carol Wayne, and Marge Champion in THE PARTY
Blake Edwards directed this comedy, his only collaboration with Peter Sellers that was not a PINK PANTHER film. Edwards, Sellers, and principals of Mirisch Corporation had agreed to defer their salaries. Although the film grossed $8.3 million, it earned only $2.9 million in film rentals, a figure equal to its estimated budget.
Henry Mancini’s score was released on an RCA LP, which was re-issued on CD by BMG Japan in 1995, RCA Spain in 1998, BMG Great Britain in 2001, Legacy in the U.S. in 2014, and then back on LP by Quartet in 2018.
On a summer afternoon in suburban Connecticut, advertising executive “Ned Merrill” (Burt Lancaster) inexplicably finds himself eight miles from home, dressed only in swimming trunks. Partly to demonstrate his athletic vigor despite the advent of middle age, partly on an impulse, Ned decides to swim across the county, from pool to pool, until he gets home. In his odyssey from one neighbor's pool to another, THE SWIMMER gradually confronts the sorry facts of his present existence.
William Holden was the first choice for the lead role of the swimmer Ned Merrill for both producer Sam Spiegel and director Frank Perry, but Holden turned it down, as did Glenn Ford, Paul Newman and George C. Scott. Burt Lancaster, who was eager to play the role, was ultimately cast. Prior to making the film, Lancaster, despite being quite athletic, had a fear of water and took lessons from Olympian and UCLA water polo coach, Bob Horn. Lancaster trained at the pool at his own house and one at UCLA.
Marge Champion, Kim Hunter and Diana Muldaur are among the country-club wives who encounter Ned on his journey. Marge Champion is “Peggy Forsburgh,” the wife of one of Ned's "long time, no see" friends, “Stu Forsburgh” (Richard McMurray).
The entirely outdoor shoot took place on location near Westport, CT, where director Frank Perry had attended high school. Locations included eleven residential swimming pools spanning Fairfield County, CT. Filming did not go well, and stories differ as to what happened. On 11 January 1967, Daily Variety announced that added sequences, featuring actress Janice Rule, would be directed by Sydney Pollack, due to Frank Perry’s unavailability. Although Rule’s part was described as a “guest star role,” she was actually replacing Barbara Loden in the role of “Shirley Abbott.” Loden reportedly quit before the project was finished.
In a 7 May 1972 Los Angeles Times article, Frank Perry refuted earlier reports that he had been replaced by Sydney Pollack due to scheduling conflicts. Instead, Perry asserted that Burt Lancaster had fired him. The director was quoted as saying, “Burt was really very sweet, but he had more power than I contractually. He had the right to fire me, and he did.” Perry also recalled that two other replacement directors had been brought in, and one of them had received a photography credit on the final film. Despite tension over her husband’s departure from the project, Frank’s wife Eleanor Perry was enlisted to write additional material.
Assistant director Michael Hertzberg said of the Frank Perry-Burt Lancaster relationship: "My take is that, in this case, there was nothing wrong with the director, and there was nothing wrong with the actor, but they were just wrong for each other."
For his part, Burt Lancaster said in an interview with Take 22: "...the whole film was a disaster. Columbia was down on it. I personally paid $10,000 out of my own pocket for the last day of shooting. I was furious with Sam Spiegel because he was over at Cannes playing gin with Anatole Litvak while he was doing THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS (1967). Sam had promised me, personally promised me, to be there every single weekend to go over the film, because we had certain basic problems--the casting and so forth. He never showed up one time. I could have killed him; I was so angry with him. And finally, Columbia pulled the plug on us. But we needed another day of shooting - so I paid for it.”
Producer Sam Spiegel recruited composer Marvin Hamlisch to compose the 1968 film's score after seeing him play the piano at a party. It was Hamlisch’s first feature film score, and was released on a Columbia Records LP. Film Score Monthly released the complete score on CD in 2006. THE SWIMMER sank at the box office, with a $1.8 million gross. Nevertheless, Burt Lancaster always insisted that this was both his best and his favorite film of his career.
Nanette Fabray's husband Ranald MacDougall wrote and produced a comedy western entitled "A Woman for Charlie." The film was originally devised as a “chapter” in NBC-TV’s “World Premiere” series of made-for-television movies. Dan Blocker, an actor best known for playing “Eric ‘Hoss’ Cartwright” on the NBC television program "Bonanza" was cast in the lead role of “Charley Bicker,” opposite Fabray, who played "Sadie," a bar girl at the local saloon. A bevy of other second-tier stars also appeared in the film: Mickey Rooney, Jack Elam, Jack Cassidy, Henry Jones, Jim Backus, and others, including Wally Cox and Marge Champion, who played “Mr. and Mrs. Bester.”
Beginning sometime in spring or early summer 1969, principal photography took place on the Universal Pictures studio lot in Studio City, CA. After completion of the film in July 1969, Universal decided it was good enough for theatrical release. Reportedly, the film was slightly revised before being re-titled THE COCKEYED COWBOYS OF CALICO COUNTY. The film opened in Los Angeles on 10 June 1970.
Tony Leader directed and Lyn Murray scored the [G]-rated film. The film was Dan Blocker's last before his death in 1972. He had appeared in 415 episodes of "Bonanza" beginning in 1959.
Marge Champion received her first credit as a choreographer for the 1975 made-for-television film QUEEN OF THE STARDUST BALLROOM. In the film, a lonely widow (Maureen Stapleton) and a postman (Charles Durning) find romance late in life at the local dance hall.
The film was directed by Sam O'Steen and aired on CBS on 13 February 1975. In addition to the film’s underscore, Billy Goldenberg composed five songs for the film, with lyrics by Marilyn Bergman and Alan Bergman. Stapleton and Durning were both nominated for Emmy Awards, and Goldenberg and the Bergmans won an Emmy for their songs. Marge Champion also won an Emmy, for “Outstanding Achievement in Choreography.”
For THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, the filmization of Nathaniel West’s novel about 1930s Hollywood, Marge Champion served as the Dance Supervisor. John Schlesinger directed the 1975 film. John Barry’s score was released on a London Records LP, which was reissued on CD by Intrada in 2010. In 2016 Intrada released an expanded version of the score.
THE AWAKENING LAND was a lusty frontier saga about a pioneer woman (Elizabeth Montgomery), and her love for her family, the man she marries (Hal Holbrook), and the land on which she lives. It was dramatized from Conrad Richter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning trilogy of novels.
The drama’s authenticity came in part from the unusual speech patterns and dialects adapted for the actors by Marge Champion, who, as dialogue supervisor, enhanced the dialogue’s realism by drawing upon an apparent family heritage. In addition, Champion also created some dance movements for the film.
Boris Sagal directed the three-part, seven-hour miniseries, which aired on NBC during 19-21 February 1978. Fred Karlin received an Emmy nomination for his score, which remains unreleased.
Marge Champion and Gower Champion had divorced in 1973. In early 1977, before beginning work on this series, Marge married director Boris Sagal. The two would remain wed until Sagal’s death in 1981, when he was killed early in the production of the TV film WORLD WAR III in a helicopter accident in Oregon.
The television mini-series IKE starred Robert Duvall as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The three-part film focused on his professional relationship with other wartime leaders, including General Omar Bradley (Richard Herd). It also very discreetly addressed his personal relationship with his driver, Kate Summersby (Lee Remick).
Melville Shavelson directed the U.S. and North African sequences for the film, and Boris Sagal directed the European scenes. Marge Champion acted as the choreographer for dance scenes filmed at Pinewood Studios in the UK. The series aired on ABC on 3, 4 & 6 May 1979. Fred Karlin provided the unreleased score.
Marge Champion was the dialogue coach for the epic 1981 television miniseries MASADA, which was directed by her husband Boris Sagal. Champion was billed as “Marge Champion Sagal.” Less than 7 weeks after the series aired in April, Sagal was killed in a helicopter crash at age 57.
Jerry Goldsmith’s score was released on an MCA LP, which was re-issued on CD by Varese Sarabande in 1990. Intrada released the complete score, including the parts composed by Morton Stevens, in 2011.
In WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY?, “Ken Harrison” (Richard Dreyfuss) is an artist who makes sculptures. One day he is involved in a car accident, and is paralyzed from his neck down. All he can do is talk, and he says that he wants to die. Harrison has a girlfriend, “Pat” (Janet Eilber), who is a dancer.
In real life, Janet Eilber was a dancer for Martha Graham. In 2005, Eilber became Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company. Eilber’s dance scenes for WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY? were choreographed by Marge Champion.
John Badham directed the 1981 drama. Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score was released by Film Score Monthly in 2009.