04 February 2008

The Crossdresser on the Ceiling

On the ceiling of the lobby AMC Empire 25 cineplex on 42nd Street is a mural of surprising artistry for a movie house. It depicts three muses in cascading gowns dancing about in a vaguely Greek setting. Hardly cinematic. More theatrical, and so it is. The mural was originally painted to sit above the proscenium of the Eltinge Theatre. The Eltinge, built in 1912, is the handsome box in which the Empire lives. The theatre once sat a couple hundred feet east, but was rolled down Broadway to its current spot in 2000 when it became a movie theatre.

If the women in the mural looks a bit odd to you, you've got a sharp eye. It's believed that all three are meant to depict the namesake of the Eltinge Theatre—Julian Eltinge, one of the greatest female impersonators of the 20th Century, and the only such artist to ever have a Broadway theatre named after him.

Eltinge was popular in his time in a way that can hardly be imagined today. His thing was that he didn't ape the ways of women, but rather performed so convincingly he presented the illusion of being a woman. He gave a special performance for King Edward VII, and was so well known that he launched his own publication, Eltinge Magazine—the Oprah Magazine of its time—that, with depthless impudence, advised woman on matters of beauty, fashion, and home tips. Dorothy Parker wrote a poem about him. W.C. Fields commented, "Women went into ecstasies over him. Men went into the smoking room." Eltinge himself quipped, "My life is one close shave after another."

Of course, Eltinge is completely forgotten today. If you go up to the fifth floor of the theatre, you'll see a glancing tribute to him. An outdoor balcony bears a small sign saying "Eltinge Terrace."


Anonymous said...

Eltinge has not been forgotten. A documentary on his life and careein is currently in production.Go to:

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of Julian Eltinge until reading your post. As a crossdresser I am happy to read about things like this.

Thank you for sharing that picture and information :)