Masters of Drag: Julian Eltinge
In this new digital series, New York's sweetest drag diva Peppermint tells the story of pioneering American drag artists. In the process, she demonstrates how drag is a performance art form that has thrived in this country for generations, entertaining LGBTQ+ and general audiences alike, and providing the former with an important outlet of self-expression.
- Hi, all I'm Peppermint star,
RuPaul's drag race season nine.
Broadway's head over heels
and New York City's delightful diva.
Welcome to Masters of Drag
where we're telling you stories of American drag pioneers
and how the concept of drag has changed over time.
We're gonna start our journey with Julian Eltinge,
a stage and film star who experienced enormous success
in the early 20th century,
but he died practically broke and was largely forgotten.
So what happened?
Julian Eltinge was born William Dalton in 1891
in Butte, Montana.
He started dressing in drag at a young age
and was performing in local saloons
by the time he was a teenager.
When his father found out about him doing drag,
he was punished, and his mother sent him
to live in the Boston area for his own safety.
His big break came when a producer spotted him in a play
and brought him to New York city.
While performing Eltinge was so convincing as a woman
that often audiences didn't realize the illusion
until he took off his wig at the end of the show,
which is something I would never do.
Okay, so don't ask me to do this.
After performing in Vaudeville,
which were variety South shows,
popular in the early 20th century,
he made his Broadway debut in a musical in 1904
called Mr. Wix of Wickham,
about a man who disguises himself as a woman.
Now the show flopped, but he was singled out as a success.
He had perfected the art of female impersonation.
He was so talented that he was hired
to perform in many more shows
and eventually made his way to Hollywood.
He even once had a beauty magazine
that contained photos of him and his many dresses
and included ads for his very own brand of cold cream.
He also complained about having to fit into tight corsets
to achieve that 24 inch waist.
Darling I don't complain about any of those things.
Let's take a look at this footage from the 1920s,
the mannerisms, the make-up, the gowns,
it's all there honey.
Eltinge went on successful tours
throughout the United States and even Europe,
where he once gave a performance
at the request of the King of England, Edward VII.
King Edward liked it so much
that he even gifted Eltinge with a pet bulldog,
sounds like love at first sight.
Check out this Palatial Mansion
he built for himself in Los Angeles,
known by many as the Pink Castle on Silver Lake.
At the height of his career Eltinge made more money
than Hollywood superstar and legend Charlie Chaplin.
Now that's a lot of coin, things started to turn poorly
for Eltinge starting in the 1930s.
A different more outrageous style of drag performance
started become popular, making Eltinge seem out of date.
You see Eltinge's performance style
wasn't about being exaggerated
and funny and loud and campy,
as we know drag can be today.
He was all about fooling people
into thinking that he was a woman.
Now, we're not even sure that Eltinge
would have called his work drag
which is why we're using the phrase female impersonator.
Eltinge always walked a tight rope
when it came to questions about his sexuality.
He never married, lived with his mother
and made slide jokes about his dresses
and admitted that he was different, aren't we all?
Starting in the mid 1930s after prohibition
he started to drink heavily.
Homosexuality became more stigmatized
and the police increasingly cracked down on drag
and cross dressing.
Once a successful Hollywood star,
he was reduced to performing nightclub acts
standing next to his dresses,
describing the characters he used to do.
He stopped getting regular work
and eventually lost his mansion in LA.
By some accounts, he continued to struggle with alcohol
and wasn't successful in reviving his career.
He passed away in 1941 at the age of 60.
Julian left an incredible legacy of track performance
but, despite his former fame has been largely forgotten.
Me learning about the mainstream success of Eltinge
just proves to me that drag is for everybody.
It's probably because drag includes
performance and entertainment,
it deals with gender and sex and sexuality
and politics and a whole lot of fun.
Subscribe to this channel for more stories
of pioneering American masters of drag,
with me Peppermint.
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Twyla MovesMarch 26, 2021
Masters of Drag: Julian EltingeMarch 01, 2021
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