Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Has the Inspiration for the April-December Portrait Been Found?

Many  thanks
to Brother Bill
for  bringing
this new material
to our attention.

In  our  earlier
treatment of the
portrait, we found
some Victorian
artwork  and
photography that
could conceivably
have  inspired
this beloved and
much - missed
Haunted Mansion
character, but the
search for a direct
inspiration wasn't
something  we
chose to  pursue
with  any  vigor
at  the  time.

I know that Foxxy, over at Passport to Dreams, is of the opinion that the aging Abigail effect
in The Haunting (there's that movie again) was quite possibly the inspiration for April.

Maybe. However, your blog administrator is sorely chastened after looking into the Catlady-Bewitched mystery, where we found it chronologically difficult to link Ling Ling the cat lady in Bewitched with Marc Davis's cat lady, despite the astonishing similarities. If THAT one is a coincidence, you'll pardon my reluctance to make triumphant claims about artistic inspirations. The boundless realm of Long-Forgotten will continue to be home to countless perhapses and maybes and nonsmoking guns. If it's certainty you're after, my advice is, "Don't become a historian." (My other good advice is, "Never sing while you're cleaning the toilet.")

Here's another, more recent example where the temptation is great to connect the dots prematurely. Last week, Paul Anderson at the Disney History Institute posted a delightful Ken Anderson concept sketch featuring a haunted kitchen. This artwork has never been published:

It immediately reminded me of a well-known Marc Davis concept sketch:

It's quite possible the Davis got the idea of a haunted kitchen from Anderson, since we know the 60's Imagineers did look at Anderson's work from the 50's. But is there a one-to-one correspondence here, a direct inspiration? At first pass, you might think the answer is yes. The basic layouts are similar, and there's a cat in each kitchen, but most tellingly, the water pumps are very similar:

Case closed? Not really. The thing gets squishier the more you think about it. Any early 19th century kitchen would have had a water pump like that one, and if you are setting about drawing a haunted kitchen, the idea that the pump may be busily pumping itself almost suggests itself, doesn't it? So sure, it's possible that Davis consciously and specifically appropriated Anderson's haunted kitchen, but it's also possible that this is all purely coincidental. It is furthermore possible that Marc did see the sketch at one time but later forgot all about it; meanwhile, the basic idea had gone into his mental file, only to emerge later as an "original" idea. You see how it goes.

Once Again, Dark Shadows

However cautious we may be, the April-December parallel brought to our attention by Brother Bill is pretty darn impressive. You may recall that in our exploration of the Corridor of Doors in another earlier post, we demonstrated (at least to our own satisfaction) the likelihood that the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows was a source of inspiration for Marc Davis and perhaps others on the Mansion team. In fact, it would be surprising if the Imagineers did not check out the program, at least once in awhile.

Well, it's Dark Shadows time again. This time around we look at the
"Josette duPres" portrait, which made its debut in the show in 1966.

They say the Josette portrait created a bit of a buzz in that it was the first time the show included something unambiguously supernatural. The ghost of Josette steps down from the painting and goes walking about.

Josette became a continuing character, and the painting turns up in the ongoing storyline from time to time. In January of 1968, the painting gradually morphed right before our eyes from a portrait of a beautiful young lady into the corpse of an old woman.

Josette chnging portrait

The resemblance to April-December is obvious.

Is January of 1968 too late for this DS episode to have inspired Davis's April-December portrait? It appears not.

It so happens that the stretching portraits and the changing portraits were among the very first things Marc worked on when he came on board with the HM project. Most of that groovy stuff dates to 1964. You can see several concept sketches for changing portraits on the walls around Marc in the January 1965 "Tencenniel" TV program and in other old photos, including Medusa, Catlady, the Flying Dutchman, the Black Knight, Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Rasputin, the Witch of Walpurgis, and others.

Furthermore, when Marc produced his "Great Hall" concept paintings in 1965, he depicted seven
changing portraits in them, as we have seen previously: the Witch of Walpurgis, Dracula, Jack the Ripper,
and four out of the five which would eventually grace the walls of the Changing Portrait Hall at Disneyland:

Cat Lady

The Black Knight


The Flying Dutchman

The missing fifth portrait, of course, is Miss April-December, and she is nowhere to be seen in the
other photography either. In fact, the earliest representation of her I know of is a miniature version in the
Attic of the HM scale model, which cannot be dated earlier than 1968 and probably should be dated to 1969.

The point is, there is no evidence that April-December existed before the DS episode featuring the morphing Josette portrait aired. April's absence is particularly noticeable when we take into account how often the other changing portraits make appearances. That doesn't prove any kind of connection, of course, but it does mean that there is currently no chronological obstacle to the theory that Marc got the idea for April-December from Dark Shadows. For the record, I am of the opinion that he did.

The portraits used in the Mansion were done by Ed Kohn (working closely with Marc), and Kohn's December looks more corpse-like than the simple old woman in Marc's concept art, as we discussed in our earlier post. Curiously enough, that makes Kohn's December a better match to Josette than Marc's original sketch:

On the April side, the thing that strikes me is the hairstyle. In this case it
doesn't matter if you compare the Davis original or the Kohn adaptation:

For me, the hair was one coincidence too many. But hold on a minute: Is it reasonable to think someone could take such careful note of Josette's hairdo in a fleeting television image and remember it later? This was before TiVo or even VCR's. You saw a show once, and that would be it. Reruns? Dark Shadows was a soap opera. No reruns.

Yes, it's reasonable. This is Marc Davis we're talking about. Part of his genius lay in his astounding powers of observation. Besides, the Josette painting made further appearances on the show after the morphing episode, so there were fresh opportunities to examine it.

Back to the Future

As everyone knows, Marc originally conceived of April-December as a four panel series (later swollen to six), but eventually it was reduced to two in deference to the needs of show flow. Add to this the move to a more necrotic December in the transition from concept to actuality, and it points to an ironic conclusion. If Josette was the original inspiration, the Mansion portrait came to resemble its model more and more closely as time went on. I call it ironic, because usually the movement goes the other way. (However, it's a dynamic we have seen at least once before.)

I must confess that I have never watched Dark Shadows. I'm wondering now what else may be found in those 1,225 episodes that might be of interest to those of us fascinated with the history and artistry of the Haunted Mansion.