BT: How did you get your stage name, April March?
APRIL: I got the name back when I first got into burlesque in Dallas, Texas. Barney Weinstein owned the Theater Lounge and he came up with the name of April March.
I said, “March comes before April.”
And he said, “No, not your case. You look like a breath of spring.”
So, April March I became, and April March I stayed.
BT: How did you get the title, ‘The First Lady of Burlesque’?
APRIL: ‘The First Lady of Burlesque’ came about when I was starting at the Roxy Theater in Cleveland, Ohio. The stage manageress came up with ‘The First Lady of Burlesque’.
She said, “You know April, everyone gives you the tag ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in Burlesque,’ but I think a perfect title for you would be ‘The First Lady of Burlesque’.”
And I said, “How come?
She said, “You look so much like Jacqueline Kennedy.”
And I said, “I never thought she was that attractive.” (laughs)
And she said, “Well, my dear, she is. And the title fits you beautifully, because you do a very ladylike striptease number.”
I never did anything vulgar on stage in my life. So, I became ‘The First Lady of Burlesque.’
BT: At least you were not named ‘The First Lady of Burlesque’ because you look like Eleanor Roosevelt.
APRIL: (laughs) No, that’s for certain.
BT: You have been married how many times?
APRIL: Eight, unfortunately.
BT: Sometimes quantity is better than quality…?
APRIL: I don’t think so. Everybody always says, “Oh, that’s so glamorous!” I don’t see anything glamorous about it. It cost me a lot of money. I’m on the eighth. He’s a nice person, but not in show business. Doesn’t understand anything about show business.
BT: Of those marriages, I am intrigued by your gay husband.
APRIL: You know the old saying goes: A girl’s gotta keep her hairdresser.
BT: That’s convenient. May I ask you a personal question?
APRIL: You may.
BT: Did you ever…have sex with the gay husband?
APRIL: No, because his boyfriend spent our wedding night in the same bed.
BT: The three of you?
APRIL: They cuddled. I turned my back. This was back in the 50’s when gay wasn’t accepted as it is now. His parents didn’t know he was gay, and he asked me if I would marry him. I knew he had a partner, Bill. But my gosh, what a fantastic hair stylist.
I got all these divorces, but I found that later I could have had them annulled because most of them didn’t last any length of time! Oh well. (laughs) My money/my misfortune.
APRIL: When I met Mel, I was staring at the Derby Club where I had begun as a cigarette/flower girl. I later went in as the star of the show. But the owner put me on leave for two weeks because he brought Mel Tormé in. On opening night we met. Mel liked me and I liked him. He was a very handsome young man, and I loved his singing. He was very arrogant, but he was a genius. He played every musical instrument there was to play. Anyway, he asked me out on a date a couple of days after I had met him.
Now, he was short. And I was taller than he was. So he told me: flat-heeled shoes, no red fingernail polish, and don’t have my hair done in an upsweep. So on the day that we were having our date, I went to the beauty parlor and I did everything that he told me not to do.
He drove in from California and he picked me up in Oklahoma City. I walked out and there he was in his baby blue Oldsmobile convertible. He took one look at me, and I looked at him. He got out of the car, opened the door, and didn’t say one damn word about the nail polish and shoes.
We went to lunch and a movie and after that movie was over, he said, “I don’t have to be at the club until nine o’clock and you’re coming with me.”
And I said “Oh, I am?”
And he said, “Yes, you are.” He said, “You know we’ve got time to go to the drive-in. My friend Rory Calhoun is in a new Western.”
So we went to the drive-in, and we were waiting for the movie to start, and we smooched a little bit. And then the smooching went beyond smooching and we had a little tête-à-tête in the car. After that, both of us fell asleep. Later we woke up and he said, “Oh shit! I’m supposed to be on stage!”
We go back to the Derby Club and the place is packed. The owner blamed me. He said, “You knew you were supposed to be here at 9 o’clock!”
I said, “Well, we went to the movies and…fell asleep.”
BT: Well, you weren’t lying. What was it like performing back in the day?
APRIL: It was four shows a day, five on Saturday, seven days a week. You worked all those shows and you traveled on that seventh day. Cleveland to Seattle to San Francisco. You had to take a flight and you were dead tired to do four shows that next day.
BT: That’ll keep you in shape.
APRIL: Here’s a funny story: A 12-foot-tall blow-up of me was stolen in Wildwood New Jersey. I was in a show there for 10 weeks, and the manager had a big, amazing 12-foot blow-up of me outside the parking lot when you drive into the hotel. Well, it was stolen, and the whole police force in Wildwood were searching for April March’s poster. Turns out some college kids had stolen it and left it and some vacant lot somewhere.
BT: They couldn’t take the heat.
APRIL: When they got it back, they chained it up inside the lobby of the hotel. Another time I was starring in the Ann Corio show, This Was Burlesque. I told her I wanted her to give me a press party in New York City, which she did.
I said, “I want you to invite the editor of Sports Illustrated.” And he came.
He came over to me and said, “Miss March, what is it that you wanted me to do for you?”
And I said, “I want to be in your magazine.”
And he said, “Miss March, that’s highly improbable.”
And I said, “No, it isn’t, Sir. I have an eight handicap in golf.”
And he looked at me and said, “You’re full of shit.” He said, “Can you prove that you have an eight handicap in golf?”
And I said, “Yes, I can.”
He said, “Would you be willing to go out to the Yonkers Country Club with an associate editor and play a round in the court?”
And I said “Yes, I would.”
So three days went by and I got a call from my agent saying, “Are you ready to play a round of golf with Sports Illustrated?”
I said, “Oh yes!”
I beat the associate editor of Sports Illustrated by three strokes.
BT: Yes! Breaking that glass ceiling again, April March. Now, you have a great line, “A lady always…”
APRIL: “…removes her gloves first.” I teach a class and I tell the girls not to do the tongue-thing or the hand-thing, and invariably that night, that’s what they all do. I tell them not to throw your wardrobe around. It’s not ladylike. And they just fling it all over the place. I teach elegant strip-tease.
BT: You always kept it classy. It’s very clear that that was what you were known for. Hence the title of ‘The First Lady of Burlesque.’ Well, I love your book.
APRIL: All of my doctors bought my book! My dentist, the nurses…
BT: Thank God for the medical community. They must love it. It’s such a delightful read. And what’s more, there are pictures. Lots and lots of delicious pictures.
APRIL: I tried writing the book as though I was right there speaking to you, telling the story, and most people tell me that now they felt that feeling.
BT: Absolutely. Your narration is very personable, connective and honest.