A story of circus fame and all its accompanying troubles from the years when the “greatest show on Earth” was at its glamorous best.
Art dealer and former Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel art critic Jensen (The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins, 2006, etc.) sets out to explain why his subject, Lillian Leitzel (1891–1931), was so beloved in her time. Born into a circus family and trained from an early age on the trapeze and rings, her talent was clearly special. She moved easily from a family show to her own success and fame, and Jensen documents the entire road. The author provides an adequate biography, but he doesn’t make it obvious why readers today should care. His initial descriptions of her aerial abilities and parentage are arresting, but as the narrative progresses, it starts to feel stale. Leitzel’s signature move may have been amazing to behold, but words can only go so far in describing the visual wonder. Despite Jensen’s constant reminders about her salary, her living arrangements and her diva style, it is easy to overlook why she was crowned as performing royalty. Interwoven with Leitzel’s take of fame is the love story between Leitzel and Alfredo Codona, a trapeze artist. Fraught with the obstacles of chaperones, spouses and danger, the story of the affair is full of intrigue. The community, dedication and the transient nature of the circus are a fantastic backdrop for the action, but those looking for a broader exploration of the entire community should look elsewhere. This book revolves around Leitzel and Alfredo.
Despite the inherent tension in the world of the circus and the whiff of glamour surrounding the circus queen, her story will appeal mostly to true circus enthusiasts.