A Fan in the White House

The First Lady draws the attention of 7 year old Suzanne Boone to Lillian Leitzel performing near the top of te circus tent. *see below for details
The First Lady draws the attention of 7 year old Suzanne Boone to Lillian Leitzel performing near the top of the circus tent. *see below for details

Among Lillian Leitzel’s most prized possessions was a photograph of Grace Coolidge, the First Lady of the United States. It was inscribed, “With affectionate regard for Lillian Leitzel – Grace Coolidge.” (New York Evening Post 4-13-1929) The photograph was always on her dressing table wherever she went.

While Calvin Coolidge was President, the First Lady made it a point to attend the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus every time it appeared in Washington D. C., sometimes more than once in a season and often in the company of her husband. The newspapers would always carry the story, usually including a picture of the President and Mrs. Coolidge sitting in the audience, always in the company of a Ringling executive, more often than not John Ringling himself. It was great publicity for the circus because the photo was carried in newspapers around the country.

When Leitzel performed while Mrs. Coolidge was in the audience, she would always bow toward the First Lady’s box after completing her act, in turn the First lady would always acknowledge Leitzel’s act with great enthusiasm. On one occasion, after watching Leitzel’s act, she rose to her feet, took her handkerchief out and, so everyone could see, waved it in Leitzel’s direction with demonstrable emotion.

Leitzel and Mrs. Coolidge developed a good friendship. More than once, Leitzel was a guest at the White House. On one occasion, she took one of the circus children, Dolly Jahn, to join her for a tea with the President and First Lady. On another occasion, according to Robert Lewis Taylor, she arrived two hours late for an overnight stay. (Robert Lewis Taylor, Profiles: Star-II, New Yorker Magazine, April 28, 1956, p. 47). Still, Leitzel and Mrs. Coolidge always remained on good terms. It seems with Leitzel such behavior was not only tolerated, it was expected, no matter the circumstances.


*Newspapers throughout the country published a very wonderful human interest photograph. It showed the President and Mrs. Coolidge sitting in chairs at the circus, with John Ringling seated to the right of the President and Mrs. Coolidge to the President’s left. She was holding our little 7-year old daughter, Suzanne, on her lap. Immediately behind John Ringling was Captain Wilson Brown, the President’s Naval Aide and Colonel Latrobe, his Military Aide. Then in the third row three newspapermen. Had the photograph been a little larger, it would have shown me to the left of George Derno, one of the newspapermen, and immediately behind Mrs. Coolidge’s and Suzanne’s heads. Mrs. Coolidge was pointing out the aerialist, the famous Lillian Leitzel, performing on a trapeze high up in the top of the tent.

*From the Papers of Joel T. Boone. Chapter on President Coolidge from the Memoirs of His Physician, Joel T. Boone. p. XXI 983