I have decided not to change the original post, which reflects the kind of fan sentiment that ultimately led to her joyous restoration to the ride. The original post here follows:
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 . . .
(Marc Davis's original concept artwork: MDIHOW 362)
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).
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...
However, at some part of her short life, miss April probably became mrs June and mrs September, as she gained a ring, not seen on April nor December...ReplyDelete
I noticed that. It seems a peculiar design for a wedding ring, but who knows?ReplyDelete
Considering the Florida Counterpart has taken, and in many cases, butchered, a good chunk of DL's attractions, I guess it's safe to say that it was time for DL's Mansion to get a piece from Florida (Master Gracey, of course). Though it is, I must say, a gross understatement.ReplyDelete
I always wondered why we on the east didn't get Miss April. It could have worked at least in the corridor of doors or by the piano.
One thing I don't get is how Miss June is to be interpreted by the audience with the wink and everything.
Great post, as always!
When I was younger and could only read about the Disneyland house, April-December (and the changing portrait gallery itself) were of the absolute highest interest to me. Once I saw them in person, it did not disappoint (and I was lucky to see April when I did). It really is one of those perfect spots in Imagineering, like the waterfall to the left in Pirates before you turn the corner and see the skeletons, or the exit of the Tiki Room at night.ReplyDelete
One thing that will always be to the Florida version's discredit is that by getting you into the Doombuggy so quickly, the reality of the house was compromised. I think part of it is also that you can't go right up onto the porch and "kick the tires", so to speak, try to peek in the windows, poke the siding. So to me the Portrait Hall is absolutely part of the Mansion's mystique. Once Holiday gets out of my life (I moved to California at the wrong time), I look forward to having a Haunted Mansion to call my own again.
I also used to think that anything missing from each Mansion was clearly an erroneous oversight, but as you know on my blog, I'm now more likely to rally in support of the weird little differences. The "change-o portrait" scene in WDW just isn't as good or as real as it is at DL, partially because you ride by it, partially because the windows aren't awesome, and partially because the "staring eyes" at WDW was a much more worthy on-ride introduction. That scene was quiet and disturbing because it usually took people a few moments to even notice that the eyes were following them, and then notice just how many there were in the room. The hushed quiet of the (pre-load spiel) load area, the candles floating at the top of the stairs (which maybe only 20% of riders ever see), the room full of watching eyes, then, finally - did that ladder just move?
I think one reason April-December was removed is because it's the one portrait that demands interpretation, and I think the guys in charge of the changes in Mansion around this time just really didn't "get" that aspect of the ride (look at the Attic). The "cat lady" is pretty obvious, even if the tiger is a way cruder metaphor than the panther and the way only her upper body used to change was much more disturbing. The "ghost ship" and "skeleton knight" are obvious gags, and Medusa is more of a "Boo!" moment, although I've always wondered why they went with the "full petrification" frame instead of the "I'm a scary monster" frame.
April-December made you reinterpret everything you'd seen before. Which version of these portraits is "reality" - the "normal" state or the "haunted" state? Depending on what you made of that portrait, the context for the rest of them would alter.
I also think April-December was one of the precious few things in the California house that seemed to connect it explicitly to southern plantations. April seemed to fit right in with wrought iron and Greek columns. I think her portrait was specifically designed to evoke that mileu, just as the "Aging Man" portrait looks much more like something you'd find in staid old New England.
(side note on "Aging Man": I've always found it sad that the current "morph" effect goes right past the most disturbing frame in the series, the second to last "rotting corpse" image, using it just as a transition to the skeleton. There used to be a hush in the room when that "decaying mummy" image would come up above the fireplace and the 2007 guys seem to have underestimated it).
I really hope April-December comes back, because it was the best thing about maybe my favorite scene in the Disneyland house. California needs to keep April-December and Florida needs to keep "Master Gracey". These things are important to their identities.
Just one little observation: I don't think Master Gracey is dead until the sixth panel. The fifth looks to me like a very old man, frail, but still drawing breath. The thing that screws people up is the shoulder. But if you examine it closely, you've got a badly fraying hole in his coat on the lower part, and a thin but still shirted shoulder showing above. It's not bone. It's the same color as the bit of shirt cuff sticking out of his sleeve by his hand.Delete
Oh man, thanks for this post! I for some reason completely forgot she had gone! I don't look closely at the Haunted Portraits that much anymore. But I remember when they took her down and thinking it was pretty sad.ReplyDelete
So-called Master Gracey has always been my least favorite portrait, if only because of the legend that has sprung up around it, and perhaps because of how foreign it is to the Anaheim park. My heart skips a beat every time I hear a fellow butler or maid shouting out "To better view the paintings that 'my master hung himself', step into the dead center of the gallery!" The guy hanging above the expanding room is not your master! BLAH! As for April-December, I really feel the weight of her absence. For me, the portrait hallway is one of the genius scenes of transition from the Mansion of the living (outside), to the realm of the dead. Intentional or not, the fact that three of the paintings were beautiful women sliding back and forth between youth and decay seems to echo the larger frame of the building itself changing from a place of beauty to one of horror. Her loss is greater magnified by the WDW portrait's intrusion, I cannot stomach it.ReplyDelete
Another great post. The April/December portrait really was my favorite and I was disappointed that it was taken out. I disagree that the new/original changing effect is better. I liked the slow transition much better: The flashes that change the portrait don't illuminate anything else in the hallway, just the images themselves, so even though they are synced to the lightning outside, it doesn't feel like the lightning is really what's illuminating the portrait. And like the update lightning effect that illuminates the sailing skeleton in Disneyland's Pirates now, the stutter and rythm of the lightning feels very artificial. Plus panther women are way cooler than tiger women.ReplyDelete
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April to December -- a nine-month gestation period for the death growing inside her?ReplyDelete
Perfectly lovely post, by the way!
Can you stand another Dark Shadows comment? I’ve always seen April and Gracey as a couple, too, because they remind me so much of the bewitched portraits of Amanda Harris and Quentin Collins in the 1897 storyline. Although Amanda was Galatea to Quentin’s Dorian Gray, the pairs of portraits really strike me as visually similar. Here’s all four put together: http://i47.tinypic.com/2vt5i7t.jpgReplyDelete
Great post! I've always loved the morphing portrait ladies, but all the others seem ironic, like the new attic bride (just because she's a woman and a dainty beauty doesn't mean she isn't powerful and dangerous). But not April. I was a big fan of Roald Dahl's "The Witches" as a child, so I always thought the point of April December was that she was a person trapped in/haunting a painting. She lives her life, she visibly ages -- she even winks at us!ReplyDelete
One of the best things about HM is that it just shows you the spooky stuff, and leaves the interpretation up to you.
"One of the best things about HM is that it just shows you the spooky stuff, and leaves the interpretation up to you." Or it ought to! I wish that all of the current Imagineers understood this.Delete
I love this portrait! Too bad it's gone! Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
Growing up, I always thought that April-December was a play on "May-December" which is when an older man marries a younger woman. I had always imagined that the point of her portrait was to show how marrying into the family associated with the Mansion could curse a beautiful young lady. Thus, look at how pretty she was in April and by December, she is nearly dead. And the 9 month difference in portraiture time always struck me as a subtle but very sad gag... that this vibrant young woman who married in the hopes of having a family would herself wither away within the timeframe that she would have otherwise been able to bear a child. Perhaps there's a hidden level in the story where the child that she is carrying is what is causing her demise? A reincarnation taking place within the Mansion? :)ReplyDelete
When I visited Disneyland a couple years ago, I was constantly being a 'naughty guest' and linger behind in the hallway while the rest of the herd went off into the abyss. Despite the doombuggy trying its best to keep the blinders on and focus your attention, it's still pretty obvious that you are surrounded by people while riding. The hallway gives you that one chance to "find the way on your own". So why not pretend?ReplyDelete
Despite knowing how every trick more or less works in that scene, I still felt uneasy standing there alone, watching the hallway do its thing. To me, that's the power of a well executed, constructed environment. It allowed me to lose myself, just for a second.
That hallway is the reason why the California Mansion will always be superior to the Florida one.Delete
The spring (April) symbolizes youth and fertility, while the winter (December) symbolizes death.ReplyDelete
Please kind Sir, Bring on the busts! I must know who they are! I must know about the broken one that I remember being whole at one time.... or is it just my imagination hmmmm?ReplyDelete
I didn't know that they took April-December out. That's terrible! I remember the first time I went on the Anaheim Mansion and my dad said something like "Boy that was a quick aging" with a laugh or something to that degree. It made me feel just a little bit better about going on the ride at 11 or 12 years old in the late 90's (I mistakenly said said early nougties in an earlier comment). I was scared and excited and had a lot of fun. The fact that they removed April-December kills a piece of my childhood. Why get rid of it when they weren't replacing it with anything (putting Medusa in April's place doesn't count)? And I agree with Eric Scales, the stutter effect looks like a rave and a risk for those with Epilepsy. Also the panther woman looks like more of a natural change than a tiger because it looks less cartoony. Also I think that April-December was a metaphor showing an even earlier beginning within the mansion of the theory on the house falling apart the more supernatural events we witness motif, Dan.ReplyDelete
Actually my favorite of the transition panels. April losing her innocence by June, causes a look back to April. There you see the seed for destruction already sown and September / December confirm the suspicion.ReplyDelete
Considering the idea that December has released her mortal coil, that brings the idea of Post-Mortem Photography into play. And I would say moreso than the black and white photos of the pop-ups in the Corridor of Doors. They are obviously dead, and have been for some time. December is in nice clothes and is propped up much the same way a postmortem photo subject would. Heck, April could be a postmortem and you couldn't tell immediately.ReplyDelete
Here's some reference: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/wp-content/blogs.dir/445/files/2012/04/i-e8848d94076b1076a01d0293e2b0c88e-190.jpg
I hadn't thought of post-mortem photography, but that's an interesting consideration with regard to the April-December portrait. It may have been part of the general mix of morbid Victoriana that influenced the Imagineers.Delete
Isn't it funny that they now sell "post mortem" portraits of guests at the HM gift shop!Delete
I am also in the group prefering the old "fade" effect to the newer "strobe" effect. I enjoyed watching the detail of the painting change over time. With the new painting, you only get a moment to see the 2nd painting: you can barely tell that the columns behind Medusa have holes in them, as does she - implying that you (the viewer) has turned to stone. You can't see the details of "Mr. Gracey's" skeleton or the details of the waves smashing against the Flying Dutchman.ReplyDelete
It doesn't give you time to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the details. It's turned into a quick, 1 second gag forcing guests to wait for the next lightning strike to look for another detail.
There is "something blue" in September, at the end of the handkerchief she is holding. It looks blue to me there, but not before - what do you think?ReplyDelete
Mmm...I'm not seeing blue in there anywhere (color will vary with monitors, of course).ReplyDelete
Great post! One of my absolute favorite series of paintings from Marc, a much-missed subtraction from the ride, but a very cool piece of lenticular artwork that was sold during a special anniversary at Disneyland, that actually allowed the 4 original paintings to really "morph" - a much cooler, creepier effect, in my opinion than the scary lightning flashes.ReplyDelete
You mentioned the possible influence of the TV series Dark Shadows in a post on the corridor of doors... I'm wondering if you are familiar with an effect that occurs in a Jan. 1968 episode depicting a portrait transformation that looks suspiciously similar to April-December? It's the portrait of Josette, and starts out looking like this:ReplyDelete
Then slow-dissolves across a span of only a few seconds into this:
The similarity to April-December is uncanny!
Wow, uncanny is right! Thanks for pointing that out. I'll be looking into it further.Delete
I found a Dark Shadows Wiki page that summarizes the episode and has some more pictures:ReplyDelete
There's also a youtube that shows the portrait's transformation. It starts at about 2:00.Delete
Great video..! You know for some reason I've avoided watching Dark Shadows my whole life and only recently decided to take the plunge and start watching it (which is how I happened up on that portrait effect). I have to say, tonally, the show really evokes the Haunted Mansion attraction. It almost feels at times like it could have been filmed inside the attraction, what with its strobe-light lightning strikes outside the windows (dressed with potted trees), rubber bats jiggling on strings, "outdoor" sets, such as graveyards, that are obviously indoors--just like the Mansion's, and now this changing portrait effect. I'm starting to wonder just how much the show may have influenced the ride.ReplyDelete
That changing portrait has enough going for it to warrant a follow-up to this post, so thanks again. Most of Marc's changing portrait concept art was done before 1965, but I can't find any evidence that April-December existed prior to 1968. She's not in the TV "Tencenniel" footage or in any other photography in which Davis's HM concept art is visible, nor is she depicted in Davis's concept paintings for the Great Hall. She may well be a very late painting.Delete
Any chance you'll do a piece on The Couple? I really enjoy the deconstruction of the portraits, such as you've done here with May/December, and how you tracked down all the references in The Witch of Walpurgis. I'm especially curious about the Mansion painting within the painting.ReplyDelete
I'm afraid I don't have much on that painting.Delete
I just remembered that December is still in the WDW Mansion: she's right next to the couple in the transitional area between the loading hall and the portrait hall.ReplyDelete
I have been searching high and low for April - December by Kohn The only photos of her are very small or distorted Does anyone know if there are any posters of Kohn's April? Seem's really strange that all of the earlier paintings that were in HM back during Kohn and Davis has no records anywhere??? Anyone knowing of the older stuff in good quality jpegs please let me know. I am wanting to paint a set of all of them, firstname.lastname@example.orgReplyDelete
These are the best I've got:Delete
What I like about April/December is that the gag subverts the use of "April". At first you think it's just the portrait labeled with the NAME "April", for the subject depicted, but it turns out that "April" is the metaphorical part of her life- when she turns into "December", it's a surprise, and your perception of "April" is changed to the time. It is a shame she's gone- I find her much more interesting than the Aging Man whom the Imagineers seem to favor.ReplyDelete
I always thought that because in portrait 3 she winks and has the ring that she's happy because she's married into the rich family of the mansion. Or is getting good fortune initially because of the ring. And then gets horribly sick and withered as a result of either the house or the ring. Well...those are my favorite interpretations. I feel like it may just be the boring "wife gets ugly as soon as she's married" gag.ReplyDelete
Either way I do feel her design makes a stronger connection to the theme and place of the Anaheim mansion; That her portrait has the most story of all the portraits. She actually makes you think about who she is and why she ages which is cool!
I loved the April-December Lady and still miss her. Back in the 1980s, a friend with whom I went on the ride said, "That picture's very depressing because it's the one that comes true if you live long enough."ReplyDelete
I apologize for barging in on poor Miss April-December’s post with an Aging Man thought- God knows she’s lost enough to him!- but I just had a little bit of an epiphany tonight that might be bias or it might be a genuine sign of my world being smaller than I thought (and no, that’s not a cue for the song- anything but that, to quote Scar from “The Lion King”).ReplyDelete
Over the course of the last year and a half or so, I’ve developed a strong interest in the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845, in which two Royal Navy ships vanished in the Arctic, taking their entire crews into history with them. There’s a chance some of the men may have survived- there are a few tantalizing Inuit testimonies suggesting a very few assimilated British men- but if so, we will probably never know which ones, and they were vastly outnumbered by the ones who definitely died. For practical purposes, it’s treated as though they all did.
I got into this via AMC’s miniseries “The Terror”, which is a fictionalized version of the expedition that adds a supernatural element to the story. My favorite character, almost immediately, was the expedition’s improbably named third in command, James Fitzjames, who’s portrayed as a sort of arrogant dandy covering for deep-seated feelings of inferiority due to his illegitimacy and (by Victorian standards- he's half Portuguese) dubious ethnicity, who nevertheless ends up becoming his best, bravest and most caring self even as he gets mortally sick from scurvy wreaking havoc on the same old war wounds he once bragged about. One of the first things I was told by friends who'd done more research on the real-life expedition was that the real James Fitzjames was a much more cheerful and boisterous figure than his TV counterpart, with a genuinely comical resume of misadventures all the way up to the expedition's last contact with the west. (He's also one of the more plausible candidates for one of the alleged survivors, who might have actually died as an old man surrounded by his Inuit family.)
I ended up reading as much as I could about the real Fitzjames- I've never wished I could know a historical figure more than I wish I could somehow have been friends with him. Along the way, I learned about his foster family, including his foster brother William Coningham.
William Coningham grew up to be a semi-reclusive art collector/rabble-rousing left-wing minister of Parliament. Reading about his generosity, his genuine support of worker's rights, and the tight relationship he shared with Fitzjames, I became very fond of him, too. He also, incidentally, posed for a portrait in 1841 that has been used as a general representation of "handsome young Victorian man"- including, I think, a few editions of "The Picture of Dorian Gray".
I think Coningham might be the original basis for our Aging Man:
He just lacks that disdainful sneer in Davis's concept art.
Anyway, the idea of one of my newer deep-dive interests turning out to have been quietly linked to one of my older ones is... well, it's spooky. I have a souvenir pin somewhere with the Aging Man on it somewhere, for crying out loud.
Thank you! April-December has been a standout memory of my visit when I was a boy. She's forefront in my mind along with the "let me outta here!" coffin man. I've been confused at the flashing portrait morphs as I've gone through virtual tours and the like, because I've always remembered April-December slowly turning old and back again. I thought maybe I was conflating experiences and misremembering. I recall that she stood out to me particularly. The vividness, as you mention, of that corner, really absorbed itself into me in an a saturation of mood. I remember standing there within that music and that flash at the window and simply watching her change from young to old and being affected with the macabre silence of it. At that age, around 9 or 10, the idea of mortality was a stark and distant thing. But that portrait really brought it to me in a quiet and wonderfully unsettling manor. Almost as if it were winking to me.ReplyDelete
And now, after a long absence, she returns! In a new, special location, no less...ReplyDelete
Good news, everyone: as of 2021, APRIL-DECEMBER IS BACK!!! Unlike the other changing portraits, she now sits on a wall opposite the loading area and uses a version of the slow fade effect rather than the lightning flash. Not only that, the new effect appears to use all six of the original Ed Kohn paintings! Here's the video (April shows up at about one minute in): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOyrWDkPgsc.ReplyDelete
And to HBG2, as someone who's been reading this blog for a while now, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the situation in an upcoming blog post (but only if you have the desire and the time to, of course).