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Gower Champion

Gower Champion

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Also Known As: Died: August 25, 1980
Born: June 21, 1921 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Geneva, Illinois, USA Profession: dancer, actor, director, choreographer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Legendary dancer and choreographer who found performing fame as a team with his then-wife, Marge Champion, and later went on to become one of Broadway's most renowned directors and choreographers, as well as an occasional film director. Gower Champion was raised in Hollywood. He won a dance contest while a junior in high school and with his dance partner, Jeanne Tyler, quit school and went on the road. Their performance at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel led to featured dancing roles in several Broadway musicals, beginning with "Streets of Paris" in 1939, and also including "Count Me In" (1941). During World War II, Champion was in the Coast Guard, and toured with a show called "Tars and Spars," along with another serviceman, Sid Caesar. When Champion returned to New York after the war, he found that Tyler had married and no longer wanted to dance professionally. He wrote to his former dance teacher, Ernest Belcher, asking for suggestions. Belcher suggested his daughter, then performing under the stage name Marjorie Bell, with whom Gower had attended Bancroft Junior High School in Los Angeles. Although Gower was 6' to Marge's 5'1", Marge was willing, and the duo became "Gower and Bell" in 1945, although...

Legendary dancer and choreographer who found performing fame as a team with his then-wife, Marge Champion, and later went on to become one of Broadway's most renowned directors and choreographers, as well as an occasional film director. Gower Champion was raised in Hollywood. He won a dance contest while a junior in high school and with his dance partner, Jeanne Tyler, quit school and went on the road. Their performance at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel led to featured dancing roles in several Broadway musicals, beginning with "Streets of Paris" in 1939, and also including "Count Me In" (1941). During World War II, Champion was in the Coast Guard, and toured with a show called "Tars and Spars," along with another serviceman, Sid Caesar. When Champion returned to New York after the war, he found that Tyler had married and no longer wanted to dance professionally. He wrote to his former dance teacher, Ernest Belcher, asking for suggestions. Belcher suggested his daughter, then performing under the stage name Marjorie Bell, with whom Gower had attended Bancroft Junior High School in Los Angeles. Although Gower was 6' to Marge's 5'1", Marge was willing, and the duo became "Gower and Bell" in 1945, although their first professional appearance together was in 1947. They married that same year and were then billed as "Marge and Gower Champion." In 1948, Champion staged the numbers for a Broadway revue called "Small Wonder," and a few months later won his first Tony for choreographing the musical "Lend an Ear." The latter included numbers satirizing the musicals of the 1920s. In 1951, Champion, assisted by his wife, choreographed the numbers for "Make A Wish," including a ballet satirizing bargain day at a department store. The "story dance" had blossomed. But Marge and Gower Champion wanted to perform. In 1949, they appeared with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in "Admiral Broadway Revue," a TV series airing on both the Dumont and NBC networks. The next year, while Caesar and Coca went on to do "Your Show of Shows," the Champions were brought to Hollywood to appear in "Mr. Music" at Paramount with Bing Crosby. They then signed a long-term contract with MGM. They were Ellie and Frank, the dancing players of "Show Boat" in 1951, and performed four dances in "Lovely to Look At," a remake of "Roberta," as well as starring in "Everything I Have Is Yours," and several others. But, the Champions wished to continue to appear on TV as well, and when MGM balked, their contract was dissolved. Appearing on TV in the 50s, Gower also usually produced and directed the duo's programs. They were usually seen on CBS, in such specials as "Three for Tonight" (1955), "America Pauses for Springtime" (1959), "Marriage: Handle With Love" (1959), and in their own situation comedy, "The Marge and Gower Champion Show" (1957), in which they played dancers trying to start new lives. Beginning in 1961, with the demise of the Hollywood musical and similar TV programs, Champion began performing less and choreographing and directing more, turning to the Broadway stage once again. He had a hit with "Bye, Bye Birdie" in 1961, and made Broadway history with "Hello, Dolly!" in 1964, winning multiple Tony Awards for both. He also worked with musical stars on TV, producing and directing "The Julie Andrews Special" and "An Evening With Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte," both in 1969. Champion made his own final acting appearance playing an exercise instructor in the 1977 NBC TV movie, "Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress." Champion did not truly crack the film medium as a director, working at the helm of only two films, "My Six Loves" in 1963, and "Bank Shot" in 1980. The former was an overly sweet Debbie Reynolds vehicle in which she is a Broadway star seeking a break away from the footlights. She takes in six adorable moppets who help her find a new domestic meaning to her life. The latter was based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake. Marge and Gower Champion divorced in 1973. In 1980, he choreographed and directed the new version of "42nd Street," but died hours before it opened of a rare blood cancer. Champion was awarded his final Tony posthumously.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Bank Shot (1974) Director
2.
  My Six Loves (1963) Director
3.
  Accent On Love (1959) Director
4.
  Three For Tonight (1955) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress (1977) Exercise Instructor
2.
 Jupiter's Darling (1955) Varius
3.
 Three for the Show (1955) Vernon Lowndes
4.
 Give a Girl a Break (1954) Ted Sturgis
5.
 Lovely To Look At (1952) Jerry Ralby
6.
 Everything I Have Is Yours (1952) Chuck Hubbard
7.
 Show Boat (1951) Frank Schultz
8.
 Mr. Music (1950) Himself
9.
 Till the Clouds Roll By (1947) Dance specialty
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1935:
Formed dancing duo with Jeanne Tyler, quit school to tour
1939:
First Broadway show, "Streets of Paris"
:
Served in WWII
1945:
Formed "Gower and Bell" dance team with junior high school friend Marjorie Belcher
1946:
Performed in the MGM musical feature biopic, "Till the Clouds Roll By"
1948:
Debut as stage and television director
1949:
With Marge Champion on "Admiral Broadway Revue"
1950:
First prominent screen roles for "Marge and Gower Champion" in "Mr. Music"
1951:
The Champions co-star in "Show Boat"
1952:
Marge and Gower Champion featured in MGM musical vehicle, "Everything I Have Is Yours"
1955:
Last MGM musical, "Jupiter's Darling"
1957:
Starred in "The Marge & Gower Champion Show"
1963:
Film directing debut, "My Six Loves"
1964:
Directed the smash Broadway musical hit, "Hello, Dolly!"
1977:
Played exercise instructor in NBC TV movie, "Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress"
1980:
Directed last Broadway show "42nd Street"; died afternoon of opening
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Fairfax High School: Los Angeles , California -

Notes

Gower Champion was portrayed by Bruce Gray in the 1985 film "Odd Birds."

"Light as bubbles, wildly imaginative in choreography, and infinitely meticulous in execution. Above all, they are exuberantly young. The best dance team of its kind in the world." --critic John Crosby

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Marge Champion. Dancer, choreographer. Married October 5, 1947; divorced in 1973; played lead and supporting roles teamed with Champion in a handful of MGM musicals of the early 1950s, but never caught on as a starring duo.
companion:
Wanda Richert. Actor, dancer. Starred in stage version of "42nd Street"; involved at time of his death.

Family close complete family listing

father:
John W Champion. Advertising executive. Divorced from Gower's mother in 1921.
mother:
Beatrice Carlisle.
son:
Gregg Champion. Director. Born in November 1956; mother, Marge Champion.
son:
Blake Champion. Born in February 1962; died in an automobile accident in May 1987 at age 25; mother, Marge Champion.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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