Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Butte’s Famous Female Impersonators

New York City’s Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street opened amid much fanfare in 1912. Its history includes some interesting ties to Butte. It was named for Julian Eltinge, America’s first famous female impersonator. Eltinge, whose real name was William Dalton, spent much of his youth in Butte in the 1890s. When he began his stage career in 1904, Dalton took Julian Eltinge as his stage name. The Eltinges were neighbors of the Daltons in Butte, and Charles Eltinge was Dalton's boyhood friend.

Via Wikipedia
During Dalton’s youth in Butte, friends recalled that he possessed a good pair of fists and was not shy about using them. Those who knew him as a youngster would never have guessed the direction his career would take. Women adored him for his wardrobe, and his performances sent men “to the smoking room.” At the height of his international career, Julian Eltinge was one of the highest paid performers in the business. In 1907, he gave a performance for England’s King Edward VII. He also starred in silent movies. Eltinge returned to Butte to perform several times throughout his career, perhaps most notably to capacity audiences in the mid-1920s, recreating his dual male/female role in The Fascinating Widow. Poet Dorothy Parker coined the term “ambi-sextrous” in referring to Julian Eltinge. His career faded in the 1930s when a crackdown on cross dressing prevented appearances in costume.  He died in New York in 1941.

Via Wikipedia
Mansel Boyle, who also had ties to Butte, was a popular female impersonator and a contemporary of Julian Eltinge. Boyle was working at a Butte liquor store when he got his start in 1902 with the Overland Minstrels, an amateur theatrical company. Boyle left Butte to find success in the business. Critics claimed that Boyle, under the stage name M. Vardaman, was “the cleverest impersonator ever seen on the stage.” Coincidentally, Boyle later was the manager of the Eltinge Theatre.

In 1998, the long-closed Eltinge Theatre was moved 170 feet down 42nd Street to form the façade and lobby of the new multiplex AMC Empire Theatre.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this! Eltinge's name is today associated with a gag that nobody--except theater people--gets in Buster Keaton's "Seven Chances." I first came across the name in "W.C. Fields by Himself," and have found only a few references here and there in vaudeville histories. I was unaware of any Montana connection till now.