Leitzel’s relationship with the press was legendary. Never has anyone so enjoyed the company of the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate. She relished every encounter. It was said she always made time for an interview, no matter how inconvenient. As a consequence, Leitzel rarely received an ounce of bad press.
Of course, there were tangible benefits of the relationship for both parties. Leitzel received great publicity and the reporters got great copy. But the real hallmark of the relationship was a genuine mutual affection.
“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.” (New York World-Telegram, April 2, 1934, p. 14.)
The newsmen who covered Leitzel seemed to have an almost fatherly fondness for the tiny aerialist. They understood the sacrifices, both physical and emotional, that she made on a daily basis. And they also understood how much their words meant to Leitzel.
In 1929, when Leitzel, due to illness, sat inconsolable in her hotel room, as the circus made its debut in Madison Square Garden, worrying that her presence would not be missed, it was a group of New York newspapermen who took it upon themselves to visit her after the show and cheer her up. They told her everyone had been asking about her and saying the show was not the same without her. Almost instantly her mood changed, and, seeing that change, no one felt better than the newspapermen.
Leitzel was a favorite of columnists, including such notables as Walter Winchell and O. O. McIntyre, who would visit with her whenever she appeared in New York and then would include a line about the encounter in his column.
Leitzel’s relationship with newspaperwomen was marked by strong friendships and mutual admiration. For Leitzel, who was a sophisticated and urbane woman with interests ranging from art to philosophy, the women of the press were often her connection to the outside world, while she traveled with the circus. She would often spend hours entertaining her favorite newswoman in her dressing tent or in her stateroom on the circus train. Sometimes Leitzel would even invite them to travel with the circus for a few days and share her stateroom.
The woman of the press found Leitzel charming and they delighted in describing their experiences spending time with her, as Amy Leslie did in 1924.
“Into a lady’s dainty boudoir I stepped to visit the irresistible star of the whole magnificent combination, Lillian Leitzel. Her bungalow is lovely in elegance with a thrift and prettiness belonging to the gorgeous areal (sic.) artist’s own personality and complete stardom. Costly rugs and little ornate tables, chic tapestries and ever piquant evidence of a refined and rather special kind of feminine taste. Leitzel, her pretty self, is in a flimsy negligee, all rose and cloudy lace, with her tiny little feet in Cinderella slippers and her wonderful hair long bout her shoulders and eyes.
“She is a creature so exquisite and mannerly, so choice of phrase and gesture, so lovely in thought that her culture and feminine individual charm sit upon her like roses on a trellis. She is very small, is Leitzel, and her little perfect body is hard as nails, flexible as a tempered steel net and as beauteous in outline as a Hogarth fantasy.” (Amy Leslie, “Pretty Circus Star Has Her Canvas Villa,” Chicago Daily News, August 23, 1924, p. 14.)
Leitzel’s relations with the press were just one more reason she was unique among circus artists. She could generate her own publicity by simply being herself. As with seemingly everything, she was a natural. Of course, she was a natural because she was well educated, well read and well spoken. She spoke five languages and from her outpost traveling with the circus she kept remarkably abreast of cultural developments. And, as always, the greatest beneficiary of Leitzel’s public relations acumen was “The Greatest Show on Earth.”