by Steve Lawson
Marge Champion led, to put it mildly, an extraordinary life. She just left us at the age of 101… and I was lucky enough to know her for nearly forty of those years.
Flash back to 1982, when WTF artistic director Nikos Psacharopoulos persuaded Marge to work up choreography for a two-part celebration of Tennessee Williams. She managed to get through half of the mammoth script we sent her before driving up from New York. When she arrived, Nikos told the mob assembled onstage: “And now, Marge will tell you what to do.” He departed for lunch, leaving her to gamely improvise. When Nikos returned, Marge showed him what she’d done and he snapped: “That’s not what I wanted at all.” A true Williamstown baptism of fire.
She served as a WTF trustee for decades, unfailingly generous with ideas and financial support. I first worked with her directly in 1987, when WTF launched an outdoor Free Theatre. The budget was shoestring, and Marge made an invaluable contribution when she established a directing fellowship in honor of her late husband Boris Sagal. This underwrote two promising young directors every summer, with one of them tapped to helm the annual Free Theatre production. Marge and I became friends during this period, and later when I ran the Williamstown Film Festival she joined our advisory board and attended often.
And remember, these are just her Williamstown credits. This was the woman who was the model for Disney’s animated Snow White, performed at the Hollywood Bowl, partnered with Gower Champion in scores of film and television appearances, taught choreography, and acted. I’ll never forget Marge in the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies, when her singing and dancing – at the tender age of 82 – stopped the show.
“Force of nature” is an often overused term, but it precisely describes Marge Champion. When she committed herself – to dancing, to a class, to an artistic cause she valued – it was at full throttle. And her talent, energies, and good cheer were so infectious that she conjured up the best in everyone she touched. What a lady. What a life.