I do. So do many of you. Now that the Hatbox Ghost has returned, April-December has the melancholy distinction of being the only prominent Mansion resident who has been removed absolutely, leaving no trace behind. (Purply Shroud is another, and so are the attic popup ghosts, including the blast-up variety, such as you see directly to the right —>, but I don't consider any of those prominent ghosties, much as I like them and miss them.) Purply Shroud got a post. April certainly deserves one too. The more time that passes, the fewer there will be who remember these things directly. Already there are young doombugs running around with no personal recollection of April, having seen her only in pictures and on video, if that much. It's not too soon to put something more substantial on record before she too joins the ranks of the long forgotten.
April is unique to Disneyland. She hung in the changing portrait hall there for 35 years, from opening day until the ride went down for the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay in the fall of 2004. When the classic Mansion returned in late January, the portraits had all been replaced with new ones employing more modern technology, and let's admit it, the new effect is better than the old one—better, I should say, if and when the light levels in the room are properly balanced. The new set of portraits was also different in content. Panther Lady was now Tiger Lady, April was missing from her place on the far left, Medusa had been moved from the middle to April's old spot, and "Master Gracey" had taken Medusa's former position. Gracey was one of the original residents in Florida (and later Tokyo), where he continues to occupy a unique place of honor, but only now in 2005 did he make his Anaheim debut.
April-December east to Orlando, if we may judge by this concept sketch of the new WDW HM changing portrait
gallery. She's one of five paintings, the same five that had hung in the Disneyland Mansion from the beginning:
2007, it had only four paintings, plus a table-and-mirror set.
(pic by Brandon "GRD")
The Fab Four
As pointed out in the previous post, April originally changed back and forth with December in a lightning flash, in the same manner as the other portraits. This went to a slow morph effect early on. I can't say exactly when, but it was within the first few years. The current lightning effect is a return to the original mode of presentation. (I'm aware that this has all been said before.)
indeed cannot. It's the difference between a grim reminder and a brutal shock.
Cue the atmospheric soundtrack
The corridor before you looks longer than it really is, thanks to that favorite Imagineering trick, forced perspective. The music is eerie, the thunder crashes, the paintings silently do their best to unnerve you. At the end of the hall the busts are scrutinizing you in a most unfriendly manner, and down there you also see a corner to be turned, beckoning you onward to some place as yet unknown.
If you manage to be last in your group and lag behind (you naughty, naughty guest), letting all the others go around the bend, then you can sometimes have the hall to yourself for a few moments. Mmm. Mighty fine. You stand there all alone in one of the most immersive atmospheres the park offers. Big Brother is watching you, though, so don't overdo it.
Reluctantly you turn and begin again to approach that corner where you will make the turn. Sorry if I've said it before, but if there's a place in the HM where you can almost make yourself believe it's all real, then surely this is that place. It was April's place. I like to think she's still there, unseen, and I have to admit to a little stab of resentment when I see Medusa occupying her spot.
Wanted Dead or Alive
The drastic abbreviation of the original changing portrait sequences affected some of their interpretations. Most glaringly, what had been a ghostly Flying Dutchman manifestation became simply a nice ship getting ripped up by foul weather, as we have seen. But April-December also underwent a change. The full, four-panel sequence is clearly a statement on the brevity of youthful beauty, as a young lady's life is allegorically reduced to the span of a single year. But that's not how I read it when the effect was new. Contrary to what you might think, the word "December" was perfectly readable even in the lightning flashes, but by its very nature the effect in its original presentation disallowed you a good close look at the December phase. I thought it was a corpse, and I thought the point of it all was that someone young and beautiful in the month of April could be (and in this case would be) a rotting cadaver before the year was out if Death should happen to pay an untimely visit. "This was her in April, and this was her by December."
Funny thing is, even after you get a good look at December, I'm still not sure that that interpretation can be ruled entirely out of court. The difference between Marc Davis's concept sketch of April and the portrait actually used in the ride (painted by Ed Kohn) is slight . . .
represents exactly the same idea? In the Disneyland version, he flashes back and forth from panel one to panel six.
December's arms and hands, however, don't look very necrotic, so...I don't know. "Questions remain," as one of my
profs used to say whenever he didn't buy your argument (which was often). When it gets right down to it, I'm not
going to press the point very hard. Let's just say Ed Kohn's December is probably alive, but it's possible she is not.
Well, let's leave off the speculations about December's health and turn to something more typically Long-Forgottenistic. The direct inspiration for April-December used to be a wide open question, but a credible claim can now be made that April's prototype has in fact been found, so in this case, that question is, for many, closed. This includes your blog administrator. There are broader things to consider, however, than direct inspirations, like cultural parallels and such. LF stuff.
The pose is typical of Victorian portraiture, especially in photographs.
Young ladies and old frequently have their hands on a book (suggesting intelligence, education, and well-breeding), and you see heavy drapes, nice little tables, and dainty objects in the hand—all clichés. These are fun to look at anyway.
And this cartoon from the January 1880 issue of Punch is downright startling:
Life is But a Dream
Ed Kohn's rendition of April is lovely and fascinating. I find her far more interesting than the girl who turns into Medusa. That message is pretty straightforward: Beneath a soft and feminine façade may lie something dreadful and deadly. I use "feminine" advisedly, as Davis seemed to like the femme fatale theme quite a lot. There's the Cat Lady down at the other end of the line, of course, and there are a number of other changing portrait ideas exploiting this general motif that were never realized (even if one of them did turn up among the "Sinister 11", minus the gag).
But April is not a monster in waiting. She's like "Master Gracey," but without the smugness that loses our sympathy. What is she? Look all you want: Not only can't you tell what she's thinking, you can't even tell if she's thinking. She could be sleepwalking through life, unaware, like the Tightrope Girl, but without the humor, without the surrealistic and cartoonish denouement following the introduction. There's nothing funny here. She's something like the unused "corpse bride" portrait, but without the suggestion of a specific and tragic background story.
The closest thing to an exact parallel is really the bouquet of wilting flowers (previously discussed HERE and HERE.) But flowers have no soul. No one wonders what they are thinking. In the end, I think April is one of the most enigmatic characters in the entire Haunted Mansion. With the Hatbox Ghost back, April is now the undisputed mistress of that elite company of the elided. She is a shade now retired even from that most ultimate of retirement homes, the most invisible of the invisible, presently present only in her absence. And if I could think up some more clever descriptions, I'm sure she'd be those too. Let's face it...