Codona and Leitzel - Star Circus Performers

Codona and Leitzel - Star Circus Performers Visual Arts Famous People Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs

Alredo Codona and Lillian Leitzel were two of the most famous circus performers in 1930.  Their life stories, however, were marred by tragedies related to their work.

Circus in America provides the background:

Codona truly did "fly through the air with the greatest of ease." Every bit as much at home in mid-air as he was with his feet on the ground, he appeared with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for twenty years before he retired in 1934 [caused by a devastating injury while performing on a very high wire].

On his trapeze, he was almost continuously in motion, a relaxed and fluid blur of triple somersaults and double pirouette returns that displayed his brilliant perfectionism.  It was said that the graceful beauty of his movement and the dreams he inspired often moved the spectators below to tears.  The story of his obsessive love for the Queen of the Air, Lillian Leitzel, is a tragic circus legend.

Lillian Leitzel was another aerialist star for the Ringling show...who captured the imagination of her audiences.  For the second and more famous half of her act, Leitzel worked on the web, a single length of rope, or corde lisse, high onto which a loop was attached with a swivel.

She inserted her right wrist into the loop and began a series of planges, throwing her whole body over her shoulder for up to 239 revolutions. It was an incredible test of strength and endurance, if not grace.

The drums rolled, and the crowd counted out each one ... Lillian was loved for her grace on the rings and her strength and determination in the web act, a love only magnified by her reputation for childish temper tantrums and her disdain for the many men who chased her.  [She had] her own private railroad car equipped with a piano, an unheard-of luxury for a performer. And in Lillian's turn, she came to love more than anything else her work and Alfredo Codona.

They were married on July 20, 1928, but less than three years later, Lillian fell from the web on which she was performing in Denmark and died shortly afterwards.  Frank McClosky, the same man who would later become an owner of the Beatty-Cole show, was her rigger at the time.  He pointed out how the excessive strain of the planges had caused an invisible crystallization of the metal swivel and resulted in the fall.

Codona was devastated.  He remarried two years later [to Vera Bruce], but he would never recover from the loss of his beloved Lillian.

In 1933, while performing a very dangerous high-wire act, Alfredo was also injured.  He was forced to retire the following year.

Despondent over his personal situation, Codona committed suicide in Long Beach, California on July 30, 1937.  Circus in America provides more information about Codona's last actions:
...on July 31, 1937, he walked into a lawyer's office where he was to discuss a divorce from his second wife.  Instead, he pulled out a revolver and shot both her and himself to death.

This unfortunate situation occurred in front of Vera Bruce's mother who had accompanied her daughter to the law office.

Media Credits

Photo of Alfredo Codona and Lillian Leitzel, online courtesy Library of Congress.


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"Codona and Leitzel - Star Circus Performers" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jan 26, 2020.
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