Robert Garland – Theater Critic – New York World-Telegram, Member of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle

“So I made out I had never been in love with Lillian Leitzel.

“I had though. Year after year, in Baltimore and elsewhere. I adored that lovely lady. It wasn’t because she managed to throw herself over her own shoulder more often than you might think possible. Not that alone, at any rate. Through an alchemy of her personal devising she became the great lady of The Greatest Show on Earth. She had talent. She had distinction. She had charm. I, along with the circus miss her. Without her, the big top is never quite the same.”(1)


Anonymous Roustabout

“It was a funny thing about Leitzel. She reversed the circus idea by always being realer than she seemed.”(2)


Hester Ringling – Daughter of Charles Ringling, friend and contemporary of Leitzel and Author of Pearls and Sawdust a one act play about Leitzel.

Leitzel “was not friends with life”(3)


Courtney Ryley Cooper – Author, Screenwriter and Circus Publicist

“This is because the circus is family, it is tradition. It is a cluster of little pieces of home life. There are few quarrels, because there is strict discipline. Until 15 years ago, it was a life of limited viewpoint and limited mentality. Then a change came about through the arrival of Leltzel, “the queen of the circus.” Through the children she taught the parents and lifted the circus to a higher level, changing its viewpoint and psychology.”(4)


Robert Lewis Taylor – Author and Columnist who wrote 1956 profile of Leitzel in the New Yorker

“Lillian Leitzel was ….. a beautiful little rag doll twirling far over our heads, charming her faithful, her smile filled with promise. Though then very young, I remember her well, for I had planned to marry her right after the matinee, but forgot it during the Wild West show.”(5)


James Michener – Author

“I am a gone nut about circuses. I’ve attended them in at least twenty different countries and have never ceased to marvel at the richness of talent on display. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey produces the classic Circus, and to see their three rings in action is something to remember. And I speak as a guy who fell in love with Lillian Leitzel when she was doing her fifty arm turns!”(6)


Edmund Wilson – Writer and Critic

Leitzel “is the freest, least self-conscious of performers, and the performer most distinguished by style.”(7)


Marsden Hartley – Artist and Essayist

“It is safe to say the acrobatic world will never see the like of Lillian Leitzel again, for there was but one Bernhardt, one Duse, one Rejane, and this little woman reserved to herself the right to be classed with such celebrities in spite of the vast difference in expression, for she will always stand out in the great starry center of the acrobatic and circus world as the central sense of the purest, clearest, widest refraction: one of the most fascinating lyric stars of the most satisfying firmaments in the field of human endeavor.”(8)


Alexander Calder – Artist

”There was a performer, Lillian Leitzel; she would come out with the light all on her and then she did a hundred flops hanging by her wrist from a wire, There was a tall man who stood by her and held her red cape. What I loved was the spotlight on her and the rest in obscurity.

“I remember going down once when she took off the leather wrist band from which she flopped and flopped, her wrist had abscesses on it. Later on when I saw her in Paris she could only do sixty flops. and finally she was killed.” He looked sad.”(9)


 Elizabeth Bishop – Poet

“I am pleased to see the articles about Lillian Leitzel – she was my ideal for years, and was really marvellous.”(10)



(1) “Great Circus at Peak of Power this Year,” Robert Garland, New York World-Telegram April 2, 1934, p. 14.

(2) “Profiles: Star II,” Robert Lewis Taylor, New Yorker, April 28, 1956, p. 47.

(3) “Play Author and Actor in Palm Tree Offerings,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 27, 1955, p. 18.

(4) “Glamorous Appeal of Circus Is Revealed at Century Clubhouse,” Evening Recorder, Amsterdam, N. Y. December 13, 1935, p. 7.

(5) “Two Books that Celebrate the Greatest Show on Earth,” Ellen Hart Smith, New York Herald-Tribune, November 25, 1956, p. E4.

(6) Variety, September 24, 1975, p. 2.

(7) “The American Earthquake: A Documentary of The Twenties And Thirties,” Edmund Wilson, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979) p. 42.

(8) “A great acrobat is taken from us – In Memoriam: Lillian Leitzel,” Marsden Hartley, Marsden Hartley Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

(9) “Calder’s Circus,” Cleve Gray, Art in America, Number Five 1964, p. 25.

(10) Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters, Edited by Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz (Library of America, 2008) p. 813.