|Birth: ||Jun. 22, 1919|
|Death: ||Aug. 25, 1980|
New York County (Manhattan)
New York, USA
Dancer, Actor, Choreographer, Broadway Director. Gower Champion is considered one of the greatest Broadway director-choreographers of all times. His early fame in clubs and films was earned in partnership with his dancer wife, Marge, and were considered one of the theater's most glamorous couples. He was a native of Geneva, Illinois but grew up in Los Angeles, the new address of his mother, who settled here after a divorce. A taskmaster as well a perfectionist, she enrolled him in a dancing school for lessons at a very early age. Gower attended Fairfax High School, the school of the stars, in Hollywood and was active in school theatre leading to the formation of a dance team with his girl friend Jeanne Tyler taking the moniker, "Gower and Jeanne, America's Youngest Dance Team." They were but fifteen. The duo won a dance contest and found some success performing at various clubs in the area prompting the pair to quit school and head for New York. Their performance at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1939, led to dancing roles in several Broadway musicals. He found further work as a solo dancer and choreographer but his career was interrupted during World War II as he entered the Coast Guard. His service included troop entertainment at USO shows. After discharge, Gower continued his career by teaming up with Marjorie Belcher, whom he married, forming the famous "Marge and Gower Champion dance team." Some of the films they appeared in were "Mr. Music" "Lovely To Look At" and "Jupiter's Darling." On television, they had their own short lived show, "The Marge and Gower Champion Show." They also made many cameo appearances..."The Bell Telephone Hour" "Lux Video Theatre" "General Electric Theatre" "The United States Steel Hour" and the "Admiral Broadway Review." Infidelity, led to divorce from Marge. He turned to directing Broadway musical plays in 1948 and some of his blockbusters became legendary such as "Hello Dolly" and "Guys and Dolls." During rehearsals for the Broadway production, "42nd Street," Champion continued to work although cast members noticed his illness. A few days before the scheduled show opening at the Winter Garden, he was admitted to Memorial Sloan-Kettering in Manhattan and diagnosed with a rare terminal form of leukemia. The play opened as scheduled on the evening of August 25th. He passed on in the afternoon. Producer David Merrick kept the event secret under the axiom, "The show must go on." A standing ovation greeted the cast upon completion. They received ten curtain calls which was in essence the final for Gower Champion. At this point, Merrick walked out from the wings and uttered these words to a stunned cast and audience, "Our beloved director Gower Champion has died." The show went on and on..."42nd Street" became one of the most successful plays ever produced on Broadway with 3,486 performances. A huge memorial service was staged at the Winter Garden during which the lights of Broadway were dimmed in honor of Gower Champion. His remains were transferred to Los Angeles and cremated, the ashes given to his widow for disposition. Legacy...Out of an unprecedented 15 nominations, he won eight Tony Awards. His wins: as Best Choreographer, in 1949 for "Lend an Ear;" and in 1981 for "42nd Street;" and as Best Director (Musical) and Best Choreographer, in 1961 for "Bye, Bye Birdie;" in 1964 for "Hello, Dolly!;" and in 1968 for "The Happy Time." In addition, he was the recipient of the New York Critics Award and the Donaldson Award. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in honor of his contributions to television.
(bio by: Donald Greyfield)
Beatrice Carlisle Champion (1891 - 1970)
Cremated, Ashes given to family or friend.
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: Donald Greyfield
Record added: Dec 09, 2005
Find A Grave Memorial# 12639668
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