ABOUT JULIAN ELTINGE
A CUTE LITTLE BEAUT FROM BUTTE
By F. MICHAEL MOORE
(Photos courtesy of THE MADELINE ROSE COLLECTION)
The mining town of Butte, Montana, known as the Richest Hill in the World, has been home to numerous celebrity denizens. Born in Butte were Kathleen Williams [the Salig Girl] in 1888; the original Coca-Cola Girl, Grace Lair in 1890, and daredevil Evel Knievel in 1938. Also from Butte was Martha Raye. She was born there in a hospital charity ward in 1916, when her Vaudeville parents were in town for a show. Some celebrities resided in Butte including Bridget Sullivan, Lizzie Borden’s maid who died in Butte on March 26, 1948. Although not originally from the mining town, another resident was Bill Dalton who would later find fame as female impersonator JULIAN ELTINGE.
In 1910, Silent Screen comedian Charlie Chaplin traveled the wide-open American West and visited Butte. He and his troupe stopped in Cleveland, St Louis, Kansas City, Denver and other cities. Visiting the red-light districts in each town, the group made friends with the local madames. The brothels were closed just for the actors. Oftentimes, one of the shops’ ladies-of-the-evening would become enamored with one of the troupe’s actors and follow the group to the next town. Butte, Montana was not without its own red-light district.
The Butte brothels were on a long street with several side roads. Girls, aged sixteen and older, would entertain their clients for $1.00. The reason for the high price was that Butte contained the prettiest ones in the West. They were smartly dressed, during the day or night, and carried an air of respectability, even if their vocation was obvious. Refinement is often more attractive than vulgarity.
Chaplin was impressed not only with the seedy aspects of Butte, but with the miners in their ten-gallon hats, boots and red neckerchiefs. The comic also witnessed a gunfight in the street between a “fat old sheriff” and an escaped prisoner. Apparently, like most Western towns, Butte was filled with cowboys, miners, loose women, outlaws and other tough characters. Even more so in its earlier days.
Western outlaws in Hollywood movies, were inspired by real outlaws of the late 1800s. Butch Cassidy, Billy the Kid and the Dalton Gang were only a few of the many outlaws terrorizing the West. During 1891, the Dalton Gang, consisting of Emmett Dalton, his brothers Gat and Bob, and a few others, were notorious for robbing trains, especially in the Oklahoma Territory. Many of the gang members were killed while robbing a bank in Coffeyville, Kansas. Emmett survived and sustained 23 shotgun pellet wounds during the excursion. He served 15 years in prison and was pardoned in 1907. Later, Emmett Dalton married and became a farmer, a building contractor, a Tulsa law enforcement officer and a Hollywood producer.
There was a gang of Daltons who ventured into Butte in 1890. However, these Daltons were not related to the infamous Dalton Gang. The Butte Daltons consisted of Edna Julia Dalton, her husband Michael Joseph Dalton and their 7 year-old son Bill. The father of this middle-class Irish family, Joseph had taken his wife and son from Boston to Los Angeles, San Francisco and then to Butte where he found work as a contracting carpenter. They moved into a house on Quartz Street behind Senator Clark’s home. Bill attended Broadway School on West Broadway Street.
Bill Dalton caught the acting bug when he and a number of friends attended shows at the Caplice Hall in town. A photograph of Bill Dalton, showing him and other school kids in soldier suits and cadet caps, was given to him when he returned to Butte as Julian Eltinge in a stage performance at the Broadway Theatre in 1919. In the picture with Billy Dalton were classmates Ray Ruhle, Julius Jones, John E. Corette and a boy named McNulty, who later became a cartoonist. The photograph was presented to Eltinge by the Broadway Theatre’s manager Merle Davis who stated, “ ... the only reason why I and several other boys were not in the picture was because we played hookey and went out to McC. White’s ice pond. We got a walloping and missed having our picture taken in the bargain.”
The Dalton family remained in Butte for seven years. Later, they moved back to Boston where Bill worked as a dry goods salesman earning $3.50 a week and then accepted a job as a bank clerk. While employed with the bank, Bill joined the Boston Bank Officer’s Bank Association which put on shows. In order to improve his Cakewalk dancing, Bill attended Mrs. Wyman’s Dance Studio. One day, he arrived and watched several girls rehearsing. After they left, he imitated one of the girls who was awkward. Mrs. Wyman noted Bill moved gracefully and persuaded Bill to become a female impersonator. Reluctantly, he agreed and Mrs. Wyman instructed him on dancing, standing, moving and singing as a woman. The Boston Banker’s placed him in their next show as a woman. He received raves.
Through the show, he became acquainted with Robert. A Barnet, “the Extravaganza King,” who produced shows for the First Corps Cadets of Boston. The Cadets were a Massachusetts volunteer military group which staged elaborate shows to raise funds for their armory. They quickly placed the talented Bill Dalton in the role of a woman in MILADY AND THE MUSKETEER at the Tremont Theare in 1900. From 1890 to 1906, the Cadets performed numerous shows including INJURED INNOCENTS (their first), TOBASCO, 1492 and three others which featured Bill, MISS SIMPLICITY 1901, BARON HUMBUG 1903 and MISS POCAHONTAS, the Cadet’s final production.
During this time with the Cadets, Bill Dalton changed his name to Julian Dalton Eltinge then shortened it to Julian Eltinge. Julian was Dalton’s middle name. He chose Eltinge from an old school friend back in Butte with that name.
From his Cadet days to 1910, Eltinge perfected his interpretations of fashionable women. He developed his skills at imitating the Gibson Girl, the Bathing Beauty, and a lovely Bride to perfection. Many in the audience were in disbelief that they were seeing a man sing, dance and move like a woman on the stage.
A Broadway producer saw Eltinge in a Cadet show and quickly cast him in the show MR. WIX OF WICKHAM in 1904. From this show, Eltinge went on to Vaudeville and performed in musical plays designed to showcase his drag talents.
On January 22, 1910, Eltinge was second billed to Harry Lauder in Butte. Lauder was a popular Scotsman (complete with kilts) singer and comedian. The Butte Evening News reported that Bill Dalton as Eltinge was met by many of his old Butte friends as he stepped off the train in town. The News noted “Eltinge, the Butte boy, in feminine characterizations, was also highly appreciated. He took his wig off when he had finished and made a little speech in which he told the size of his corsets (which he called ‘Old Ironsides’).”
Eltinge’s popularity as a female impersonator later in his career was such that in 1911 a New York theatre was named in his honor. The Eltinge theatre housed legitimate dramas and musical comedies until the 1930s when it became a House of Burlesque. The Eltinge Burlesque Follies were frequently raided by the police. The theatre was closed and re-opened as the Empire showing movies. It later closed and remained empty until the 1990s when the building was moved 200 feet and changed into a multiplex as the AMC25. The site also contains Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and a hotel.
In 1911, Eltinge starred in his greatest success “THE FASCINATING WIDOW” concerning a man played by Eltinge forced in women’s disguise. Eltinge performed as a bathing beauty and a bride and a man who married the woman he loved. Among Eltinge’s other musical comedies were THE CRINOLINE GIRL, COUSIN LUCY and THE ELUSIVE LADY.
He brought his show THE FASCINATING WIDOW to Butte in 1912 for a three day engagement. A Butte reviewer wrote, “Whatever your opinion in general of merry widows, there is one of the merriest widows of them all, you can’t afford to miss. Eltinge carries a dual role, unique in the history of drama, and so difficult that it is very probable that he is the one man in the world to do it full justice.”
He returned the following year for another FASCINATING WIDOW performance and a local Butte newspaper reported he had lost none of his cleverness as a female impersonator and the play had lost none of its charm.
In 1919, Eltinge and his troupe were traveling the country for a Farewell Tour before departing on a tour of China and Japan. They stopped in Butte performing at the Broadway Theatre. In the show, Eltinge introduced the song THE CUTE LITTLE BEAUT FROM BUTTE, MONTANA.
When Hollywood called, Eltinge answered by moving to Los Angeles. He was one of the first stars to build a Hollywood mansion which he called VILLA CAPISTRANO. During the Depression in the 1930s, he was forced to sell his home. The lavish mansion became the home of Victor Fleming, director of GONE WITH THE WIND 1939. Then, after several other owners the home was finally purchased by Steven Speilberg. Eltinge did manage to keep his Alpine Ranch which is now an historical site.
Eltinge’s movies were mostly film versions of his plays. One film was THE ISLE OF LOVE aka AN ADVENTURESS which co-starred the Silent Screen’s Latin Lover Rudolph Valentino. It was rumored that Eltinge and Valentino were lovers. Also, that Eltinge was the Woman in Black who made annual pilgrimages to Valentino’s grave. Most of Eltinge’s silent films do not survive except for MADAME BEHAVE 1925.
Eltinge only appeared in two talkie films. He starred in MAID TO ORDER 1930 and IF I HAD MY WAY 1940. The latter was a Bing Crosby flick. Most prints of the film today omit Eltinge’s vaudeville drag act toward the end of the picture. However, Eltinge can be seen as a man who found a dandy spot for fishing.
The popularity of drag waned in the 1930s. Eltinge struggled to find work as a female impersonator. He was booked at a Los Angeles nightclub, but local ordinances forbade men to dress in women’s clothes so his act consisted of Eltinge standing next to his drag costumes and acting the appropriate character. The act was termed pitiful by reviewers. He managed to find a spot in 1940 with BILLY ROSE’S DIAMOND HORSESHOE JUBILEE. The show closed two nights after Eltinge died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1941.
Eltinge’s personal life was private. He lived with his mother after the death of his father. He remained a bachelor all his life, although he had numerous engagements with such women as Eva Tanguay. He participated in sports. He enjoyed horseback riding with his actress friend from Boston, Pauline Fredericks. He was also interested in boxing, posing with professional boxers in publicity photos. He was also known to beat up men who made fun of him wearing skirts. He seemed to prove to his public that he was a virile man. Protesting any hint of being homosexual, he stated, “I’m not gay! I just like pearls.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
F. MICHAEL MOORE is a drag historian and collector of numerous female and male impersonator memorabilia. He wrote DRAG! MALE AND FEMALE IMPERSONATORS ON STAGE SCREEN AND TELEVISION 1994 and JULIAN ELTINGE – DRAG DIVA OF BROADWAY, VAUDEVILLE AND HOLLYWOOD 2005. Moore lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his cats. No, he is not a cross-dresser. You may contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org