In the second half of the first third of the Twentieth century, few names were as evocative of the wonderful eccentricities of the times as Leitzel, the two syllables by which the greatest center ring feature in the history of the circus was known. She was not only the star of the Greatest Show on Earth; she was a household name and one of the most remarkable entertainers of her or any era.
While her extraordinary acrobatic and aerial skills may have explained part of her reputation, it was her rapport with an audience that made her unique. Without uttering a word she could elicit an emotional response that rivaled any actor in any role. In the words of one reviewer:
“This young lady, without the aid of song or story, can convey to the audience with her personality the things that others need to utilize speech for. She’s an artist to her finger-tips.” (New York Clipper, January 3, 1923)
This website will explore Leitzel’s life, the world in which she lived and the cast of characters that inhabited that world. It is meant to be a complement to a book I have written about her life: “Magic In The Air: Lillian Leitzel and the Greatest Show on Earth in the Jazz Age,” that is, if the book is ever published. Where the book employs a narrative style, the website has no rigid form. It allows me to present evidence and explain some of the conclusions I drew from my research. It gives me an opportunity to speculate. It also allows me to introduce discoveries that found no place in the book but are nonetheless revealing.
One feature I will incorporate in the website is a chronology of Leitzel’s professional life, detailing her career in vaudeville. I also hope to include an examination of some of the myths that have come to define her legacy. I’ll look at the thoughts of some of her more prominent admirers and I’ll present quotes about Leitzel and by Leitzel. There will be brief biographies of the men and women who were important in her life. I’ll do my best to update the website on a regular basis.
If I make mistakes, I apologize in advance. Feel free to contact me with any corrections. I will be grateful.