The 1915 edition of the Ringling Brothers’ Circus opened on April 17, 1915, at the Chicago Coliseum. The war in Europe had all but eliminated the Brothers’ ability to recruit overseas, so it was unsurprising when Variety pointed out that the show’s line-up was virtually unchanged from the prior year. There was, however, one addition of particular merit who was escaping no one’s attention: the tiny aerialist who was appearing in the center ring during display no. 6 of 16.
Billed as “M’lle Leitzel,” Leitzel was, according to Billboard, one of the “outstanding hits of the program ……… whose work as a single is so astonishing and so pat for the circus ring that she will be increasingly a favorite.” (Billboard April 24, 1915 p. 16) Variety was equally impressed, commenting, “Although given the arena to herself at the close of her turn, she could easily be displayed alone.” (Variety, April 23, 1915, p. 13) The local press was no less susceptible to her charms. Hers was the only act mentioned in the Chicago Evening Post’s review of the circus, in which it was remarked that Leitzel “furnishes the thrills for the fans.” (Chicago Evening Post April 19, 1915 p. 13) And hers was the only picture that accompanied an article in the Chicago Daily News. (Chicago Daily News April 24, 1915 p. 14)
Leitzel’s star appeal and value to the circus was apparent. Only the local florists, who were trying to keep up with the demand created by Leitzel’s ever expanding list of admirers, were happier than the Ringling Brothers.
Charles Ringling sensed he had real dynamite in Leitzel and he quickly set out to take advantage. As the brother responsible for promotion and advertising, he put his publicity department to work. They produced an article (See below) that would appear in one of the local papers in virtually every city on the show’s schedule that year. It spoke about her act, her background, her education and her musical talent, but its legacy was a name. For the first time since the Leamy Ladies had disbanded, Leitzel acquired a first name. In vaudeville, she had been Miss Leitzel or just Leitzel, and she was billed as Mlle. Leitzel in the circus program, but in the article she was Lilly Leitzel. Whether she had any say in the matter is not known, but the name stuck. She was now and forever Lilly or Lillian Leitzel.
Below is an example, from the Wichita Daily Eagle, of the article that appeared in some local paper in virtually every city on the circus schedule in 1915. It was the first time that Leitzel was referred to as Lilly.