Little Miss Leitzel
May 9, 2007 12:45 AM   Subscribe

The diminutive but intensely powerful Lillian Leitzel was known for her fiery temper, her flirtatious banter, and her ability to spin her entire body in the air while supporting herself by only one hand upwards of 200 times in a row, much like a human pinwheel. She was one of the Ringling Bros. brightest (and most petulant) stars, famously firing and re-hiring her maid several times a day. She married 3 times - (the second marriage ended after she cut off her husband's finger) but her last marriage was to the purported love her life, trapeze artist Alfredo Codona, a master of the triple back summersault off the flying trapeze who also enjoyed success as a Hollywood stunt double . Their passionate (if mercurial) relationship was cut short when, during a performance, Lillian's ring broke, and she fell 45 feet onto a concrete floor. Two days later she was dead. Alfredo, devastated, became reckless and was injured in a fall of his own, cutting short his career. His subsequent marriage to another performer failed, and while meeting with a lawyer to finalize their divorce, he shot her and then himself. Alfredo and Lillian are reunited in death, buried under a marker of their lives and love.
posted by serazin (22 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Or, if you're short on time, Here's a sweet little summery about the tiny woman who could do 27 one-armed chin-ups.
posted by serazin at 12:46 AM on May 9, 2007

Great post!
posted by Sijeka at 4:03 AM on May 9, 2007

What a beautiful monument, and sad story.
posted by furtive at 4:35 AM on May 9, 2007

THIS is an excellent FPP, well done.
posted by sidereal at 4:36 AM on May 9, 2007

dagnabit...I'd almost forgotten that petite, vexing little brunette marathoner at my last place of work, and then I read an FPP about a sub-five-foot athlete...arrgghh...
posted by pax digita at 5:03 AM on May 9, 2007

Dag! Those mercurial, hot-tempered, passionate circus aerialists! They were a breed unto themselves!

Nice post!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:13 AM on May 9, 2007

Definitely an awesome post. And I am going to start saving for my gravemarker NOW because, damn, that is one fine work of art.
posted by GuyZero at 6:22 AM on May 9, 2007

Interesting story and nice post. She sounds like a scary character. Cut off her husband's finger? yikes. Could the broken ring that sent her plumetting have been sabotaged? Pity her beloved, Codona, committed murder before suiciding. That took the luster off liking him. They sound like a pair of pit vipers with a Rodin style sculpture for a memorial.
posted by nickyskye at 6:52 AM on May 9, 2007

now now, nickyskye, let's not speak ill of the dead. They're not here to defend themselves.

Excellent FPP and nice find - *this* is why I read the blue.
posted by rmm at 7:47 AM on May 9, 2007

let's not speak ill of the dead. They're not here to defend themselves

Violent, murderous, finger-chopping psychos don't camouflage their criminal behavior with fancy marble over their graves.
posted by nickyskye at 8:01 AM on May 9, 2007

Great post! I wonder if she alternated arms for spinning/chin-ups (left arm Mondays, right arm Tuesdays) OCD is definitely showing!
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:13 AM on May 9, 2007

this fpp deserves a bravo.

posted by shmegegge at 8:45 AM on May 9, 2007

I love circus stories. I was obsessed with The Greatest Show on Earth as a young teenager. Thanks for the post!
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:58 AM on May 9, 2007

Also, can anyone explain what these articles mean by the ring/rope swivel "crystallizing?"
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:02 AM on May 9, 2007

Awesome story and awesome post... marred only by the presence of Comic Sans in the last link.
posted by hypocritical ross at 11:04 AM on May 9, 2007

Also, can anyone explain what these articles mean by the ring/rope swivel "crystallizing?"

This could mean that the crystal structure of the metal changed, causing it to become brittle.
posted by yohko at 1:46 PM on May 9, 2007

I got that far, yohko. Thanks.
posted by frecklefaerie at 6:57 PM on May 9, 2007

I think it just means that it was cold enough for the rope to become brittle and break under strain. They mention that this was during a winter show, when the rest of the traveling circus community they were a part of takes a break.
posted by shmegegge at 9:53 PM on May 9, 2007

I don't think they mean the rope, schmegegge. Reading this farm product link, someone mentions a swivel that crystallized.
posted by frecklefaerie at 4:31 AM on May 10, 2007

...the tiny woman who could do 27 one-armed chin-ups.

Or not:
In The Super Athletes, David P. Willoughby does a detailed analysis of this claim, and arrives at the convincing conclusion that Leitzel did these very dynamically, like her ring routine, and that she should be given credit for at most 6 one-arm chins done properly - a conclusion reinforced by a European female gymnast reporting a record 6 one-arm chins in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
posted by pracowity at 4:36 AM on May 10, 2007

Hey pracowity - what does it mean that her one-arm-chins were very 'dynamic' and therefore don't count as 'real' chin ups? It's not that I disagree, I just don't understand.
posted by serazin at 8:18 AM on May 10, 2007

I know nothing about chin-ups, but when a circus act tells you she can do something superhuman (compared to other great athletes) and a person who appears to be (who knows?) an exercise expert with no reason to lie about her says she probably didn't do them according to Hoyle, I will disbelieve the circus act. Probably they mean she was using momentum to her advantage rather than dropping to a complete rest between chin-ups. I don't know how you would use momentum in this case, but I'm betting it could be done (swinging the body in a circular motion rather than straight up and down?), especially if you and all of your acquaintances are experts in circus stunts.
posted by pracowity at 11:26 AM on May 10, 2007

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