The Fascinating Widow

eltinge1Famed vaudeville cross-dressing act Julian Eltinge performed today at the Orpheum, though the Times reported him to be "a trifle too old and portly to exactly suggest the flapper — his impersonation is limited to the more matronly of the species."  Eltinge was approximately 46 (reported birthdates vary), and had been doing female impersonations in his act for over 35 years.

At the turn of the century. Eltinge became well known for his parodies of iconic female figures like the Gibson Girl (his was the "Simpson Girl"), and was lauded as "the most fascinating woman on the American stage."  In 1910, he opened eltinge2The Fascinating Widow, a musical comedy where he played both male and female roles, the latter of which would become his signature role.  Eltinge was a hit, marketing his own line of magazines featuring beauty tips, as well as a line of cosmetics.  Ads for his cold cream read, "See what the Julian Eltinge cold cream does for a man.  Imagine what it will do for a woman."

Eltinge enjoyed a fairly successful career in silent film, though his weight, age, and reported alcohol abuse made it difficult for him to continue to play an ingenue.  Additionally, Hollywood laws that made it illegal for a man to perform in women’s clothing reduced his act to singing in a tuxedo while pointing at a rack of dresses.

Throughout his life, he vehemently denied rumors that he was a homosexual, saying, "I am not gay.  I just like pearls."

More information on his fascinating life can be found at The Julian Eltinge Project.

Odd Masher Nabbed In Expo Park

Grace Kenny (Jerry) McFarlane headline 1927

March 29, 1927
Los Angeles 

Busted in Exposition Park on a vagrancy charge after aggressively flirting with passing fillies, licensed chauffeur (read: cabby) Jerry McFarlane was dumped in the men’s tank at the Central Jail, where fellow inmates quickly noticed what booking officers had not: trash-talkin’ "Jerry" was actually Grace Kenny McFarlane, 22, blonde and biologically female.

She was promptly pulled from the cell and plopped in front of an L.A. Times photog, who snapped a pair of mirror image pix highlighting the two sides of fair McFarlane, and a reporter whose all-too-brief interview revealed the unique philosophy of the Jazz Age youth.

"It’s much more fun to be a man. Besides, I get along better, too, and the life is freer and easier." Except, of course, when it lands one in the pokey. "I wish I could get out and get back with the gang. I was going to take a frail out the night I was arrested. It’s lots of fun to take a girl to a dance or a show and not have them get wise." And even more fun, we’d wager, when they do.

Grace Kenny (Jerry) McFarlane 1927

For more on the secret homosexual shadow worlds of early 20th century Los Angeles, see Daniel Hurewitz’ Bohemian Los Angeles and the Making of Modern Politics or Faderman and Timmons’ Gay L.A.