Julian Eltinge, 1881-1941. American
Julian Eltinge, real name William Dalton, has been called the most famous female impersonator of all time. He was compared to Lillian Russell, the greatest beauty of his day, and in 1910 he stood at the very pinnacle of vaudeville, receiving top billing and pay on the best circuits. According to comedian W.C. Fields, “When Julian Eltinge enters a room all the women swoon and all the men leave for the smoking room.”
Eltinge first came to prominence in the 1904 Broadway musical Mr. Wix of Wickham, with songs by Jerome Kern. The following year he debuted in vaudeville where his act was praised for being of a “refined order and not the least offensive.” Eltinge became a star of legitimate theatre in November 1910 with his femme role in The Fascinating Widow. He followed up this success with similar starring roles in The Crinoline Girl in 1914 and Cousin Lucy in 1915. Between 1917 and 1920 Eltinge starred in several silent motion pictures. Other career highlights included a command performance for King Edward VII at Windsor Castle and the naming of a Broadway Theatre in his honor.
Eltinge was described as an ideal woman - “more womanly than woman” in his characterizations. According to critic C. J. Bulliet, he could wear female clothes, and wear them better than 9/10ths of the women in the theatre. More important, he could catch the little psychological tricks practiced by women, and project them across the footlights with a delicate mocking satire.
Eltinge endorsed many products for women and created his own popular line of cosmetics, shoes and corsets. He shared his beauty tips in a Julian Eltinge Magazine sold at performances.
Notwithstanding his convincing onstage gender impersonations, Eltinge took great pains to present himself as an athletic ‘manly’ man whose sporting pursuits included boxing and horses, and who was partial to cigars and cursing. He hated any characterization of male impersonators and himself as effeminate and emphasized that he only continued his femme career since it was enormously profitable. Despite his frequent protestations of ‘manliness’ and ‘normalcy’ there was often gossip about his sexual orientation. He never married and spent his declining years living with his mother in California.