Thursday, December 20, 2012

Strong Women in History: Lillian Leitzel

Lillian Leitzel
Beautiful strongwoman and acrobat Lillian Leitzel was born Alitza Pelikan in Breslau, Germany on January 2, 1892 in a family of circus performers. Her father was a Hungarian army officer and theater performer. Her mother was a Czech circus acrobat. She weighed just 95 Lbs and 4’9" tall. Unlike other strongwomen, this little lady was famous by her inconceivable acrobatic numbers which required literally herculean strength.

Although she had been well-educated and had prepared to pursue a career as a concert pianist, 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 member 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 plunges, momentarily dislocating the shoulder during each plunge. 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. She was best known for her flirting rapport with the audience.

She was also famous for her demanding personality and temper. Although pursued by many wealthy suitors, she married a series of circus individuals and never had any children. Her last marriage was in 1928 with the circus trapeze performer Alfredo Codona. On February 13, 1931, she fell to the ground from her rigging while performing in Copenhagen, Denmark when the swivel that held the rope in place crystallized and snapped. She and Codona had been performing in Europe separately, and he rushed to Copenhagen. They boarded a train to return to Berlin where Codona had a commitment. However, she died on February 15, two days after the fall, aged 39.

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