Thursday, May 9, 2024


New from Oxford University Press: Beautiful: The Story of Julian Eltinge, America's Greatest Female Impersonator by Andrew L. Erdman.

About the book, from the publisher:

From the late 19th to the early 21st centuries, female impersonation was a hugely popular performance genre. Long before today's popular television shows, men in colleges, business, and even the military formed drag clubs and put on musicals and variety shows of all kinds with little fear of negative judgment. But no female impersonator was as famous, successful, or highly-regarded as Julian Eltinge (1881-1941). Eltinge, born William Dalton just outside Boston, started playing female characters and imitating women with his mother's encouragement as a child while his father shuttled his family around the Americas in search of a mining fortune that never materialized. The future drag star returned to Boston in his late teens where he quickly rose through the ranks of semi-amateur all-male musicals, then transitioned to vaudeville, and eventually starred in hugely successful musical comedies such as The Fascinating Widow (1910).

For decades, the Julian Eltinge Theatre on West 42nd Street bore testament to his stature. But Eltinge longed to play serious roles which did not require him to impersonate women; it was a lifelong struggle. He constructed a hypermasculine offstage persona-- a cigar-loving former Harvard athlete who beat up anyone who questioned his manliness--most of which wasn't true. But Eltinge's efforts were essential in a culture increasingly focused on separating “real men” from “inverts” and “perverts,” demanding men define themselves in new ways during a time of economic and cultural upheaval. During his heyday, Eltinge published a beauty and advice magazine for women, launched lifestyle-brand makeup and skincare products, and became a paid spokesperson for corsets and women's shoes, all without a hint of irony. Julian Eltinge's success with mainstream audiences, ever avoiding suspicions and scandal, says much about the emergent middle-class white heteronormativity of the era and what we have come to think of as the social construction of gender. Beautiful pays tribute to Eltinge and gives rich insight into his unique contributions to the transformation of cultural ideas about masculinity and femininity.
Visit Andrew L. Erdman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Queen of Vaudeville.

My Book, The Movie: Queen of Vaudeville.

--Marshal Zeringue