by Carol Morrison
Julian Eltinge was a phenomenally successful and popular entertainer with a professional show business career spanning a period from 1904 until his death in 1941. He was involved in numerous stage productions, most of them written especially for him, vaudeville programs, including his own touring group, “The Eltinge Players,” and starred in several films, first in silent films and later in new talkies which were generally based on his stage productions. At the height of his career he was earning $250,000.
Bill Dalton was first introduced to female impersonation at the age of 10 when he tried out for a part in an all male production company called the “Boston Cadets,” and was given a role as a dancing chorus girl. He was very successful, and the next few years saw Bill receiving larger and more prominent roles in the same group.
It is important to realize that female impersonation already had a long established acceptance in the entertainment industry. Historically, women did not appear on the stage, and men were required to play their roles. Although it had become acceptable for women to act on stage by the mid-1800’s, when Bill Dalton entered the scene men playing women were still common.
Bill Dalton came to Alpine in 1923. He planned to build a big resort on his property then lying between Eltinge Drive and South Grade Road east. He envisioned a large hotel with first-class dining room and resort recreations. Toward this end he built a huge swimming pool (later owners filled in and reduced the pool to the present size) and two attractive dwellings to rent. He expected Hollywood friends to come and rent these houses for vacations. Only his home remains today. When the depression hit in 1929-30, Bill Dalton was almost wiped out. Semi-retired, he had to liquidate some of his holdings and go back to the stage.
When Bill died, Alpine friends affectionately remembered him as “a real man” who entertained the community at the Woman’s Club and walked around town greeting people in his overalls.
Famous Alpiner In Drag
Julian Eltinge had just about the sexiest walk I ever did see! With shapely ankles that would make a dead deacon sit up and say “howdy ma’am.”
Historic researcher Susan Walter recently entertained the Alpine Historical Society with her investigation into the fabulous stage and screen career of female impersonator Bill Dalton, a.k.a. Julian Eltinge. Susan’s research is not yet finished, so her captivating talk was a sneak preview of this scintillatingly lovely lady … er … celebrity.
While Eltinge was preparing to build a house (still standing at 2690 South Grade Road), he made his last silent film, with the title “Madame Behave,” and Eltinge in the leading role. It is a rollicking comedy, and I do not exaggerate when I say that our audience cracked up countless times at the sheer silliness of two not-too-perceptive men vying for the hand of Madame Julian.
The Harvard educated actor was the pre-eminent female impersonator at a time when female impersonation was a popular family entertainment. But Susan has found nothing to show that Eltinge was anything but the loyal, affable, and, yes, manly man that Alpiners knew and loved, a good man.
Eltinge entertained many Hollywood figures at his Alpine home and a derelict swimming pool recalls those star-studded days. His property is slated for subdivision, and plans call for preserving his house. Eltinge Drive bears his name.