Lillian Leitzel was born Leopoldina Alitza Pelikan on January 2, 1891, into a family with deep roots in the circus. She had one brother, Alfred George Pelikan, who was born in 1893. The two children spent their early childhood in Breslau, Germany, (now Wroclaw, Poland) in the home of their grandparents, while their mother, Eleanore “Nellie” Pelikan, provided their financial support as a feature performer in a women’s aerial act known as the Leamy Troupe. Because Nellie’s work required her to be almost always on the road, the children grew up, for all intents, without a mother. It is unclear whom their father was, and there is no indication he played any role in Leitzel or her brother’s upbringing. Leitzel almost never spoke about her father, and when she did it is unclear if she was being completely truthful. All she would say was that he was an athlete and a performer. On official documents, however, she recorded his identity as unknown.

Both Leitzel and her brother received quality educations. Leitzel studied at the Charlotten Schule. She was a wonderful athlete, but she also demonstrated an aptitude for music. She was considered a prodigy on the piano and had aspirations of a career as a concert pianist, but, in her early teens, for financial reasons, the family decided she should join her mother in the Leamy Troupe. The rest, as they say, is history.