Historical Striptease Performers:

April March

First Published: 

Last Updated: 

9th July 2019

23rd September 2020

Overview

From 1952 to 1978, the raven haired beauty April March was an exotic dancer, star of American Burlesque and arguably the best innovator of the elegant striptease. During this time, she travelled throughout North America and Europe gaining renown for her classy and sophisticated form of striptease.


Names

Her real name is Velma Fern Warden and on stage, was often billed as "The First Lady of Burlesque".


Childhood

April March was born on 18th June 1935, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the only child of Fern Gagg and Clarence "Buddy" Warden. Her father was absent for most of her life and her mother, a frequent alcoholic, went through a series of failed marriages. As a result, April was effectively raised by her grandparents, Ida and Elmer Gagg.


Early Career

From an early age, April pursued dance, skating and acrobatic lessons, and dreamed of becoming a movie star. At the age of 10, she gained a position as an extra in the comedy "Our Gang", when they filmed an episode in Oklahoma City.

At the age of 17, and recently divorced, April managed to get a job as a cigarette girl in the Derby Club (now closed), Oklahoma City's most exclusive club at that time. While working here, she was offered the opportunity to be in burlesque by a visiting renowned Dallas Club owner, Barney Weinstein (who also discovered the performer "Candy Barr").


Career

In 1952, trained in the art of stripping and having been given her stage name, April began her burlesque career at the Theater Lounge, Dallas, Texas (now closed). She quickly became a favorite with audiences, due to her sensual innocence and charming warmth of character. By 1953 this seemingly overnight sensation was already travelling on tour, to clubs in the USA and further afield.

April March received several offers to appear in traditional theater on Broadway, and offered music contracts with Columbia and United Artists, but declined them all in favor of her Burlesque career. April also turned down an offer to pose for Playboy Magazine, on the basis that she never appeared fully nude in public.


Signature Show & Songs

April's signature show wasn't one specific routine but more a gradually developing style she became known for. This was an elegant, well crafted and choreographed striptease, with the emphasis on tease. Her sophisticated debutante demeanor and ladylike manner led to an agent, in 1961, pointing out her resemblance to Jacqueline Kennedy (then First Lady of the United States). Hence April's moniker - The First Lady of Burlesque.

April March was the inspiration for two songs, specifically written for her, which became popular tunes in her performances: "Blues for April" and "Springtime for April".


Sports

April March loved Golf and at her peak played off an 8 handicap. She also served as President of the Ladies Golf Association in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the June 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated, she was written up for her golfing accomplishments (apparently the only Burlesque Stripper to have achieved this kudos). 


Fatal Shooting

Whilst at a club, The Place Pigalle, Miami, Florida (now closed), April was involved in a fatal shooting incident. A drunken customer was charged for drinks April March had while she was seated at his table. He took exception to this and started shooting randomly. During this firearm frenzy a singer was killed, a doorman was wounded in both his legs and a dancer was also shot in one of her legs (which subsequently had to be amputated). The shooter was finally overpowered whilst holding his gun to April's head, and thankfully never managed to pull the trigger.



The magazine "True Detective" took up the story, citing April March as the cause of the incident referring to her as a "Femme Fatale".


Private Life

April has been married 8 times. The first, at the age of 15 to Benjamin Mitson, an inventor from North Idaho. This lasted little more than a year, before April sought a divorce. Her fourth marriage was to singer Mel Torme, and although this didn't last, they remained friends until his death in 1999.

Besides marriages, April March has been romantically linked with a few famous people, including: Charles Braswell (Actor), Keene Burwell (Oklahoma oil tycoon), Joe DiMaggio (Baseball legend), Monty Hale (Actor), Wilbur Mills (Politician), Dale Robertson (Actor), Ray Shaw (Actor), and Hank Thompson (Singer).

March has a daughter from her third marriage, and one grandchild.


Retirement


Finding the business had changed to become more blatant and sexual, April retired from Burlesque in 1978.

However, the subsequent revival of Burlesque (Neo-Burlesque) has seen her back in the business, but not as a performer...


Today

April March spends her time today in New York (State), married to her 8th husband but also, teaching. Taking occasional trips across North America, April instructs new burlesque performers in the art of elegant striptease, passing on her considerable knowledge and skills for new generations to enjoy (thank you April).

Book


In August 2016, April launched her autobiography: "Reflections of My Life-April March: The First Lady of Burlesque." It is available for purchase on Amazon.



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