In November 1914, Leitzel and her assistant, Jeanette, were in the middle of a string of exhausting, split week, vaudeville engagements, appearing in mid-size cities throughout the Midwest. The week before Thanksgiving they played the Orpheum Theater in South Bend, Indiana, where they caught the attention of William W. Dunkle.
W. W. Dunkle handled publicity for the Orpheum in South Bend. He was also a freelance talent scout for the Ringling Brothers when, on November 19, 1914, he saw Leitzel’s act. He immediately recognized her talents were perfect for the circus and contacted Fred Warrell, an executive with the Ringling organization who was spending the holidays in his hometown of South Bend.
Warrell, after seeing Leitzel perform for himself, reportedly offered her a contract on the spot. Leitzel, however, had a list of demands that she required satisfied before she was willing to join the circus. Warrell brought the demands and his assessment of Leitzel’s talent to his bosses, the Ringling Brothers. While the substance of the negotiations is unknown, Leitzel always claimed the Ringling Brothers acquiesced to all her demands, and two months after Warrell had seen Leitzel, a contract was signed between Leitzel and the Ringling Brothers.
The contract required Leitzel to provide a first class aerial act and called for her to be paid $200 per week while the circus was in Chicago and $150 per week while the show was on the road. It also included one extraordinary provision. Leitzel was to be furnished with a stateroom on the circus train when the show was on the road. Leitzel’s debut with the Ringling Circus would be in April, when it opened the season in the Chicago Coliseum.
I want to thank John Kovach and the staff of the archives of St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, for providing me with the scans that accompany this post. They are from the College’s wonderful W. W. Dunkle Collection. It is an extensive and unique record of a half century of entertainment in South Bend, Indiana, beginning with the last decade of the Nineteenth Century. It provides a rare insight into the entertainment scene in a Midwestern city during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century.
The image at the top of the page is an item from Dunkle’s regular column in The South Bend Tribune, “On the Aisle.” The image below is a scan of the page in Dunkle’s scrapbook that contains the South Bend Orpheum program, with Dunkle’s notations, for the week of Leitzel’s appearance in the city. Both are courtesy of the William W. Dunkle Theatre & Circus Collection, Saint Mary’s College Archives, Notre Dame, IN.