Before Tyler Perry's Madea, before Rupaul, before Boy George, before Divine, before Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie and before Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon's Josephine and Daphne in Some Like It Hot there was Julian Eltinge. You've never heard of Julian Eltinge? Well, neither had I until my study of A Queer History of the United States. Let me share what I've found out!
He was born William Julian Dalton in 1881 outside of Boston and began performing as a female impersonator at the age of fifteen. By the age of twenty-three he was performing on Broadway in musical comedies. Most other female impersonators of his day did it for comic relief, but Eltinge wore beautiful, fashionable clothes and personified an elegant feminine ideal. He performed all over the U.S. and across the pond in Europe to packed houses. He became so famous that in 1912 a playhouse was build in New York City and named the Eltinge 42nd st theater. Eltinge's genius was his ability to show, or rather prove, that social ideas about gender are not cut in stone but are culturally created, which I'm sure disgusted the social purist!
Eltinge's personal life is little known but it is generally agreed on that he was Homosexual, even though off-stage he was[at least publicly] a rather macho man. He got into bar-fights, smoked cigars and had public affairs with women, although he never married. Despite all that speculation about his sexuality persisted. Whether he was Gay or not in his personal life he did complicate societies black and white notions about gender and sexuality. The social purity movement pressured the government to crackdown on public cross dressing, especially on stage and in films, and Eltinge's career and popularity began to decline by the 1930's. He died on march 7, 1941 at age 59.