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.


  1. I used to watch Dark Shadows as a kid.
    it's one of those shows that made me appreciate all the thought and Beauty that went into the Haunted Mansion
    even at 10 years old.,, and not write off the Haunted Mansion as just another run of the mill Amusement park spook House.

    The portrait episodes in Dark Shadows I would imagine were also the inspiration for the Dueling portraits in the Grand hall !
    As you are well aware, another depiction of one of the Duelers was shown in early promotional photos with Yale Gracy.

    Those Photos and the Episode of Disneyland Showcase with the O' Bros and Kurt Russel touring the Haunted Mansion really fired me up!
    I couldn't wait til' WDW opened and I felt so lucky I was able to go the opening year in December when the Haunted mansion was hot off the grill!

    Everything was working like a brand new toy on Christmas Morning!

    1. Yes, I think I've commented on this before, but in the foyer of Collinwood, portraits of Barnabas and Jeremiah, who fought a duel in 1795 in which Jeremiah lost his life, hang across from each other for nearly two hundred years, as if they're fighting that same duel over and over again.

  2. I must admit, there are probably even more parallels between DS and The Haunted Mansion as the Dark Shadows writers were using classic literature as inspiration, and maybe even some of the old haunted house tropes such as the thunderstorns at night. It could be a case of as they say (puffs on pipe) "Greta minds think alike".

  3. I'm really trying my hardest not to laugh at poor corpse Josette but she looks like she came from Innsmouth or the Black Lagoon. I can see what they were going for but she has goldfish Anyway, this is a very nice find. I too wonder if there's more inspiration to be found in Dark Shadows.

    1. Yeah, but on the other hand, healthy Josette is a pretty good painting for a soap opera prop, I must say.

      In the context of the episode (#405 for you Shadowheads), the transformation is actually a demonstration, a threat. One of Barny Collins's witchy ex-wives is showing him what she can do to poor Josette if she wants, so he had better stop mooning over her and start paying attention to said witchy wife, or else she'll do something nasssty to his precious Josette. So you can interpret the threat this way: "I can make her look like a ridiculous movie monster, and how do you like THAT, mister?"

    2. Barnabas later got poetic revenge on said witchy wife, Angelique, by hiring an artist to paint over HER enchanted portrait into an old woman. When the portrait aged, so did Angelique.

  4. Not that you aren't busy enough already, but would you ever consider doing a post that was a virtual picture tour of the Mansion, from exterior to exit and all points in between, composed entirely of pre-Mansion third-party material that may have served as source material (or at least inspiration) for the Mansion design? You already have all the raw material in your blog---organizing it in that fashion would would make for a very interesting exhibit.

  5. Yeah I figured it was something like that. I know that the show didn't always have the best budget and the artist and effects people really tried hard to make it an impressive effect. It must've worked for Marc Davis or we wouldn't have the well-loved and much-missed April-December. I also found what maybe another Dark Shadows inspiration with regard to the design of a Sinister 11 painting. Marc's original artwork for Dracula looks to have Barnabas' hair and crouch and the later art that's closest to the final product has Quentin's muttonchops and wide eyes. They aren't exact matches for the characters/actors but the similarity is noticeable. I have no idea about the timeline for those pieces of artwork so who knows?

    1. If you look above, you'll see Marc's Dracula concept sketch right next to Walt. It dates to 1964. In this case, any claim of influence from DS is BS.

  6. in 1971 I noticed right off the bat that the Organist was wearing a Barnabas' cape.
    Quentin wore one occasionally too.
    Also that same year, the Organist had no Hat on
    but the dining room table peeker ( Who is the Organist's twin) was wearing a derby.
    I miss him in his derby
    and i wish they would put the kings wig back on him.

  7. "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."

    Josette's portrait was prominently featured in the show for nearly a year before the 'transformation" episode, so if Davis had been following the show he would have had plenty of opportunities to see her hairstyle before January 1968.

    Josette’s portrait was the first truly supernatural story on the show, which had been more in the style of a Gothic mystery drama when it premiered in 1966. Little David Collins used to talk to the portrait and say he could see her ghost, but the viewers didn’t see it until she stepped out of the portrait to save David’s governess from a kidnapper in 1967. Here’s a video of the ghost leaving the portrait for the first time:
    IIRC, they originally planned to do the shot with a dummy, but it just wasn’t working. Actress Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played waitress Maggie Evans on the show, happened to be on set and offered to replace the dummy. They figured it would be fine since the veil and ghost effect would obscure her face. But as Josette became more important to the increasingly supernatural plots, they invented an “astonishing resemblance” between Maggie and Josette and cast Scott as the latter for flashbacks, time travel, and haunting.
    They added red highlights to the portrait’s hair, but otherwise didn’t address the fact that it wasn’t a very good likeness of the actress. Marc Davis’s painting, with its pointier chin, straight red-brown hair, and large eyes actually looks more like Josette as played by Scott than the painting from the show does.

  8. 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.

    You really should, although if you didn't like the slow pace of The Haunting, you might not care for the super-slow pace of a 1960's serial. but there are TONS of similarities. I've always said that walking into the WDW Mansion is like walking into a real version of Collinwood.

    1. I missed this when it was first published, but one of the best Dark Shadows blogs out there, the Rondo Award-winning Collinsport Historical Society, has a really great guide for getting your feet wet in the show if you've never seen it before.

  9. I remember besides sprawling Collinwood,
    they had like a smaller summer Mansion.
    Although I'm not certain that's what is was because I was like 8 years old.
    But whatever the role of that house,
    , I do remember the front had Greek columns like DL's HM.

  10. Replies
    1. Not per se, but we get into the topic a little bit in "The Black Prince" (September 2013).