Julian Eltinge*** was once one of the most famous and popular actors in America.

Praised as hypermasculine off-stage and delicately feminine on, his two sides seemed to negate each other sexually, and he displayed an ethereal asexuality. In 1904 Julian came to New York City to perform in Mr. Wix of Wickham. His star quickly rose with his vaudeville success, giving Eltinge the chance to play many cross-dressing roles, including performances in blackface, as a Spanish dancer, and as blushing brides.

image found here

Julian Eltinge went to great lengths to develop an off-stage persona that would counter his on-stage alter ego. Consider the splashy datelines from newspapers of the era: “Eltinge Hurt in Collision”; “Julian Eltinge Whips A Critic in Pittsburg”;

image found here

“Eltinge Wins Battle at Sea: But Swordfish Causes Injuries to Impersonator”. The fish battle was elaborated with the following commentary: “The 190-pound marlin got in several rapier-like thrusts which caused the famed female impersonator to undergo an intestinal operation.”

An account of Eltinge in an bar fight was as common as a review of one of his performances with one publication proclaiming, “Julian Eltinge Isn’t Effeminate When He Gets His Corsets Off”

image found here

A cartoon of Eltinge preparing for the stage shows his dresser Shima, himself a sort of star for being the man who transformed Eltinge, helping the cross-dresser with his corset. “The little Japanese chief’s duty is to pull the corset strings until the 38-inch Eltinge waist comes down to feminine requirements. The reason Shima carries the butcher knife is that sometimes the strain under which Eltinge labors while masquerading as a woman in corsets becomes too great and it is necessary to get out of his ‘harness’ before he faints.”

Women were so enthralled by his performances that he established the Eltinge Magazine which advised women on beauty, fashion, and home tips. In 1911, Eltinge opened one of his most famous shows, The Fascinating Widow at New York’s Liberty Theater.

The success of this show led producer A. H. Woods to give Eltinge one of theatre’s highest honors, having a theatre named for him. A year to the day that The Fascinating Widow opened, Woods opened the Eltinge Theatre on New York’s 42nd Street designed by noted theater architect Thomas W. Lamb. After serving as a legitimate theater for many years, it became a notorious burlesque house and was shut down during a “public morality” campaign in 1943.

Eltinge theatre found here

By the 1930s, the female impersonations that he had built his career on had begun to lose popularity. Eltinge resorted to performing in nightclubs. Crackdowns on cross-dressing in public, meant to curb homosexual activity, prevented Eltinge from performing in costume. At one appearance in a Los Angeles club, Eltinge stood next to displays of his gowns while taking on his characters. He died on March 7, 1941 following a show at a New York nightclub.

image found here

***Check out the Julian Eltinge Project for more on this fascinating man

Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 4:59 am  Comments (25)  
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25 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. he sounds fascinating even by today’s standards (or lack of standards).
    but all in all, he doesn’t sound asexual at all.
    i don’t think masculine and feminine automatically cancel each other out.

    • No, I don’t think so either Sera.

  2. I’ve always wished that I could have seen the wonder of Vaudeville in its heyday. I guess the closest we have around today is LA and that’s no comparison.

    • Yes, I wish they’d hurry up and invent the time capsule.

      • They do have time capsules….do you mean time machine?? lol.

      • hahahaha… you’re right bearman – I meant time machine

  3. He looks a bit like my mother did …… with a very similar figure as well ….. *starts wondering* …..

  4. Just noticed when he died!!!!! …… phew *mops brow*

  5. Fascinating character… and he encouraged women to take up boxing… definitely ahead of his time.

    • Yes, many women looked up to him for advice but he was not so popular with straight men

      W.C. Fields said “Women went into ecstasies over him. Men went into the smoking room.”

  6. Oh, I think he looks beautiful in that last picture.

  7. love the title of this post… Ani DiFranco uses the phrase “omnisexual” to describe herself. i like that, too…

    • I think Ani would be more popular if she fought a swordfish.

  8. I never heard of him. I went to the links and read quickly through them, but never found his sexual preference. Did he ever marry?

    • His will stated he was a bachelor. A photo exists of Julian with a woman he identified as his wife, but I think it was a joke played upon the photographer.

      He was rumoured to have had an affair with Rudolph Valentino

  9. I found myself thinking it was a shame he wasn’t born 70 years later, as he wouldn’t have been (quite so) villified. But then, if he’d been born 70 years later, would he even have been noticed? What man HASN’T put on a corset, these days?

  10. I have my hand raised. I’m not bragging but truth is truth. I have worn a polo shirt in a lady-color.

    Al Mann

  11. Wow, he is much pretty the the cross dresser I hang out with

  12. Interesting on the cross dressing as the founder of the FBI here (J. Edgar Hoover) was a cross dresser.

  13. What was the basis for The Fascinating Widow, I wonder? It seems that the widowed have been viewed as fascinating from time immemorial. I wonder if that’s because the widowed are presumed to achieved some kind of extra-human insight?

    I have never researched the roots or causes for whatever movement ended the enlightened age that seems to have been extinguished in the early part of the 20th century. Is mankind forever locked into taking one step forward and two steps back? How can we rid humanity of the barbarians and narrow minded for once and for all?

  14. he has a waste to die for … I wonder if he could actually breathe in those clothes … have to agree with Scotts earlier posting I would love to travel back and see this for real

    • Hey 70s – I believe it’s your birthday! I hope you’re getting spoilt by your teen xx

  15. Sounds absolutely fascinating.

  16. that was amazing…what a character, what a life!

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