Fall may be here soon but a breeze of early spring is coming to Montreal: Burlesque Icon, April March! Forget about seasonal depression, she’s going to throw glitter all over it!

by Nathalie René

April March is the kind of lady I want to be when I finally get to be a lady (if ever!): classy, funny, witty, daring, and breathtakingly fabulous! I’ve known the woman for over a decade and it’s with great pride that I call her my dear friend. April March is a gem in the Burlesque world, having started her career in 1952, she’s one of the only true living Legends who worked in the Golden Era of Burlesque. Her biography, “Reflections of My Life,” just came out last year and she’s still very active performing across North America. She’s one of the Stars at the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, where we had the chance to talk.

Alright April, first thing first, can you tell me how you got into Burlesque and you ended up with the name April March? Well, I was born and raised in Oklahoma City in 1935 on June 18th which makes me 32…

32! (Laughs). 82! That’s wishful thinking! (Laughs). So my parents divorced when I was 4 and my grandparents raised me. At 15, I read an ad wanting a cigarette girl for a club called the Derby Club. I told them I was 21, and they didn’t check ID back then, so I got the job! My first night there, I found out they had Burlesque dancers, [and] I wanted to be a movie star (laughs), and I thought I would never do something like that. However, it was done very elegantly back then. One evening, I put my cigarette tray down and went to the ladies room. When I came back I bumped into this little short man, damn near knocked him over. He said, “Oh! When are you on?”, and I said, “Who me? I’m the cigarette girl!” He said, “You’re beautiful. You should be in show business.” I told him, and this is where my young age came out, “I’m going to be a movie star!” He laughed and said, “I can’t promise that but if you come to Dallas, I’ll put you in Burlesque,” and I said, “Oh no! I could never take my clothes off!” He laughed again and handed me his card, and it said Barney Weinstein. He owned the Theater Lounge, and his brother, Abe, owned the Colony Club. So I got to thinking, that would be the start of something – I’ll get in movies eventually, so I told my grandparents I was going to Dallas to tap dance. They believed it and reluctantly put me on a bus with lots of warnings. So off to Dallas I went! When Barney saw me, he said, “Well, well, Oklahoma, you’ve finally made it!” I started rehearsing and one afternoon Barney came running down and said, “I got it! Your new name! April March!”, and I said, “No, no, no. March comes before April,” and he said, “Not in your case. You look like a breath of spring and that name is gonna get you far!” It sounded awfully silly to me, but April March I became and April March I stayed!

In the 60’s, you got to headline for Harold Minsky, one of the most famous Burlesque producers. Can you tell me about it? I got a call asking if I would like to come to NYC to audition for Harold Minsky’s show. I got there and in walked this distinguished looking man smoking a pipe, I love pipe smokers, there aren’t too many of those anymore…

Well Regular pipes (laughs) – I think they’re called bowls now! So anyway (laughs), it was Harold Minsky! He asked me what type of an act I did, and I said, “I have a stocking act. I have my costume here. I can go change,” and he said, “Nevermind Miss March, you’re hired!” What a glorious feeling – I always wanted to be in that position. I love the old Zielfeld Follies. So I went into the Minsky shows for 2 weeks and did very well.

During your amazing career you got to work with the best: Lili St-Cyr, Blaze Starr, Ann Corio, Zorita,… Lili St-Cyr was the queen of Montreal nightlife back then What was your experience working with her? I went to work at the Clover Club in Miami and in came Lili St-Cyr for a 2 weeks engagement and Lili St-Cyr in Burlesque. She was my idol. Her dressing room was off-limits to everybody. I think she was with her 8th husband at the time and one night, he overheard my white gloves were stolen. I guess he told Lili about it because she gave him a pair of her white gloves and told him to take them to me. I wore the gloves, took them home, washed them, ironed them, and returned them the following night. She told her husband to tell me to keep them and asked would I like to come in and have a cup of tea. So I did, [and] she was just a lovely, amazing person. I mean, she was just perfect, her features. She was such a beautiful woman.

Now I want to ask you about something that I don’t think you brag enough about: the fact that you were in Jim Henson’s “Timepiece,” which was nominated for the Oscar for best short film in 1966. How did that happen? Being in Ann Corio’s “This Was Burlesque” opened a lot of opportunities. Jim Henson and his wife came to catch the show. They then contacted Ann Corio and said they were very impressed with me and that he was doing this short film – crazy movie – I don’t understand it today even! So I did it, [and] I got $100 to be in that film and, like I say, it’s only 9 minutes and it’s a crazy film but it won all these awards and is taught in every college in the world, but it’s such an odd movie. I’ve watched it over and over, [and] it doesn’t make sense to me!

One thing that does make sense is that you’ve had quite the busy love life – you’ve been married 8 times including 4 times by the age of 20 Yes, that’s true! (Laughs).

You were also engaged to the famous singer Mel Tormé and briefly dated Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe’s famous ex-husband, what can you tell me about that? I met Joe while working in Washington D.C. I met him through one of his best friends, Peter Generis. Every time Joe was in town, he would see Pete. Anyway, Pete called me one afternoon and said “April, get up, how would you like to meet Joe DiMaggio?” So I got up and got dressed! He sent a car to take me to a club. I walked in, saw Joe and oh my God! He looked exactly like what he did in the newsreel: very tall, very shy, very gentlemanly! We got to talking and became acquainted. He was in town to receive an award and needed a hostess. I was doing a show and didn’t know if my boss would let me off. He said, “Nevermind, I’ll call your boss!” (Laughs). My boss said [to] go ahead! Oh my God, he was so handsome but that man never stopped loving Marilyn, that’s all he talked about. He said he would never go to an event that any of the Kennedy’s or Sinatra would attend; he blamed them for her death. So anyway, he told me to come by his hotel after my show to say goodbye, because he was leaving the next morning. He said he would leave the door open. So I went to his room and sure enough, he had left the door unlatched. I went in and he’s in bed, really sleepy. He’s like, “Oh April, I’m so glad you came. I want you to come and visit me in California. I’ve left you my San Francisco number and everything on the desk.” I told him I would. Then he had to get some sleep before his flight so I kissed him on the cheek and picked the contact info that my daughter later got rid of, so…

What?!? I had the paper with his number and everything on it and it was lost at one of my daughter’s high school parties!

Oh no! So you never knew what could have happened? Yeah, it was so stupid!

In 1978, with the business changing and Burlesque being replaced by more porn-influenced strip shows, you hung up your g-string and retired. In 2007, you were invited to the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas and got back into performing. What do you enjoy most about being an 82 years old Burlesque performer? I guess I can’t get over the reception I get, it’s wonderful! And of course at the age I am, I love the adoration. It makes you feel young again!

And I guess it’s kind of unexpected, I mean would you have thought 40 years ago when you retired that there you would be at 82 performing to a standing ovation? I know, it’s amazing. It’s like I’m so popular! (Laughs). This summer, I turned 82. I don’t feel it, well sometimes. I certainly feel it after this weekend at Burlesque Hall of Fame (laughs). I try to stay active. I haven’t been able to go to the gym – I’m doing a lot of lectures in colleges, bookstores, places like that, I travel a lot, I love Canada! I always try to project myself as a lady and get rid of that old stigma that women in Burlesque are nothing but sluts. I am an ecdysiast which means “one who disrobes.”

Wow! We should put that on t-shirts! Yeah! (Laughs).

This October, the incredible April March is going to grace the stage of the Montreal Burlesque Festival. Come and see for yourself what 82 years of elegance and fierceness is all about. And if you’re not touched and inspired by this lady, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you’re not dead inside! Just saying!


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