- Category : 1891-births
- Type : MS
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Split - Small (11)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Tension 4
German acrobat and strongwoman for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The inaugural (posthumous) inductee to the International Circus Hall of Fame in 1958, Leitzel died in hospital two days after a fall during a live performance.
Leitzel was born into a family of circus performers. Her father was a Hungarian army officer and theatre performer. Her mother was a Czech circus acrobat. She joined her mother's aerobatic circus group, the Leamy Ladies.
In 1910, she came to the United States with the circus troupe and performed with Barnum and Bailey. The group later dissolved and its members returned to Europe, but Leitzel continued to attempt to perform in the American vaudeville circuit. In South Bend, Indiana, she was seen by an agent of the Ringling Brothers who offered her a contract. When Ringling and Barnum and Bailey merged, she became a huge star and a headline performer for the circus.
Leitzel's act included one-armed planges, momentarily dislocating the shoulder during each plange. She would flip her body over her shoulder repeatedly, sometimes hundreds of times in a feat of endurance, encouraging the audience to count each one in unison. Only 4 ft 9 in (145 cm) in height, she was also famous for her demanding personality and temper. Leitzel was the first performer in history to command her own private Pullman car completely furnished with her own baby grand piano.
Her quick temper was legendary. It was not uncommon to witness Leitzel cursing or slapping a roustabout who did not adjust her rigging exactly to her liking. Further, Leitzel was known to fly off the handle and fire and rehire her personal maid, Mabel Cummings, several times a day. In sharp contrast, she was known to the children on the show as "Auntie Leitzel", and who would hold birthday parties for her fellow performers in her private dressing tent.
She married Clyde Ingalls in 1920 (the couple divorced in 1924), and later wed circus trapeze performer Alfredo Codona in 1928.
On the night of 13 February 1931 she fell to the ground from her rigging while performing in Copenhagen, Denmark, when the swivel that held the rope in place fractured and snapped. She died on the morning of 15 February, aged 40.
She is the subject of the 2013 book, The book Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus by Dean N. Jensen. A vintage circus poster depicting her was used as the subject of a United States postage stamp issued as part of a set on 5 May 2014.