One rule of the costume shop is “Never Assume.” Nevertheless, this 1912 ad for Red Cross Shoes for women surprised me. In it, a female impersonator explains why he prefers Red Cross brand ladies’ shoes.
Julian Eltinge was a very successful female impersonator — starting in vaudeville, performing in the U.S. and England, having a Broadway theater named after him by a grateful producer, and becoming a silent movie star, the fourth of the “Famous-Players-Lasky” group. (The other three were Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin. (Yes, Eltinge was that famous!) A quick change artist, he often played both the male and the female leads in the same show or movie, as he did in his greatest theatrical success, The Fascinating Widow.
On stage and in movies, Eltinge’s character was often a man who disguises himself as a woman in order to expose a criminal or right a wrong. This allowed the audience to be “in on the joke.” However, Eltinge’s female characters were not parodies of women; he played them quite sympathetically, without much exaggeration (considering that they were comedies….) Women were his devoted fans. He even had his own magazine for women, giving beauty advice.
That makes his appearance in this ad for women’s shoes a little less surprising.
In 1912, women were often proud of having tiny feet. (They sometimes insisted on wearing shoes too small for them, which caused a lot of painful foot problems as time went by….) So, what better way to show that Red Cross Shoes would make your feet look smaller than by having a man who wears women’s shoes prove it?
“The most important reason is the fact that I can wear a much smaller shoe in the Red Cross than any other… Perfectly comfortable, wearing even a smaller size than one my size would naturally wear.”
So was Julian Eltinge…. A master of the quick change. Hooray for him and Red Cross Shoes!
You can find several YouTube compilations of Julian Eltinge photos; click here for one.