Biography of Queen of the Circus Lillian Leitzel Part 2

About the famous German circus performer Lillian Leitzel known as the Queen of the Circus, history and biography of the woman.


Lillian Leitzel (1893-1931)

Dressed in a white cape, the golden-haired aerialist walked gracefully down a carpet-covered runway to the center ring. She was a small woman, only 4 ft. 9 in. tall and weighing 95 lb., and she had incredibly dainty feet (she wore a size 1 1/2 A shoe). Her body appeared perfectly proportioned, but actually the muscles of her shoulders and chest were considerably enlarged. When she reached the ring, she struck a pose and then handed her cape and golden slippers to one of her attendants, either her maid, Mabel Clemings, or her 6 ft. 4 in. retainer, Willie Mosher, who dressed in the uniform of a hotel doorman. On muddy days, Mosher carried her into the ring.

For a second Leitzel would remain still under the spotlight, in a sequined brassiere, brief trunks, and a short, sheer skirt. Sometimes a diamond necklace sparkled around her neck.

As the snare drums began a long roll and the cymbals crashed. Leitzel began her slow, graceful ascent up the rope. Often she threw kisses to the audience as she climbed. In the first part of her eight-minute act, she turned and twisted sinuously on the Roman rings. The second part consisted of her spectacular arm swings. Feet held tightly together, she would swing forward to the sound of a bass drum and throw her body over her wrist, forming a wide circle with the rope as axis. With each revolution, her shoulder dislocated and snapped back into place. Early in her career, she did 150 arm swings at each performance. Later she did 60, while the audience counted aloud. Her all-time record was 249.

After each performance, Leitzel had an open would where the rope rubbed against her arm. In photographs, she always hid her arm behind a cloak or drape, and on the street she wore long sleeves or wide bracelets to cover her wrist.

Leitzel's notorious short temper and irritability have been attributed to the pain her wound must have caused her. She is said to have often fired her maid four times a day, before and after each performance, and to have passed out an inordinate number of $20 bills to roustabouts in order to make amends after abusing them with her sharp tongue.

As legendary as her temper, however, was her charm. Leitzel was an unusually popular performer with audiences and circus people alike. She especially loved children, to whom she was known as "Aunty Leitzel." Whenever a circus child had a birthday, she threw a party and gave the child one of the dolls she made and collected.

Leitzel always demanded and received star treatment. She had her own personal dressing tent near the performers' entrance, and it was supplied daily with fresh flowers and decorated with oriental rugs, expensive draperies, and elaborate furnishings. A small trapeze hung in the center. In the tent Leitzel kept her two dogs, Boots and Jerry. Each night the maid would dust the dogs with a larger powder puff and spray them with expensive perfume.

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