Like today's Beyonce, Madonna, and Cher, she was known to her vast public by just one name, Leitzel. There may have been some regions on earth where her name was not a household expression, but if so, they were likely on polar ice caps or in the darkest, deepest jungles.
Leitzel was born into Dickensian circumstances, and became a princess and then a queen. She was not much bigger than a good size fairy, just four-foot-ten and less than 100 pounds. In the first part of the 20th century, she presided over a sawdust fiefdom of never-ending magic. She was the biggest star ever of the biggest circus ever, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth.
In her life, Leitzel had many suitors (and three husbands), but only one man ever fully captured her heart. He was the handsome Alfredo Codona, the greatest trapeze flyer that had ever lived, the only one in his time who, night after night, executed the deadliest of all big-top feats, The Triple--three somersaults in midair while traveling at 60 m.p.h. The Triple, the salto mortale, as the Italians called it, took the lives of more daredevils than any other circus stunt.
Praise for QUEEN OF THE AIR
"[A] moving and deep portrait of two central figures in a largely forgotten chapter of Americana.”
“[A] tale told in broad, bold swathes of primary color, like the gigantic posters that commemorate the big top’s golden days, yet as with any good book, delight awaits in the details, as well…
[I]rresistible…thrilling…strikes just the right balance between the intimate and the showmanly. In addition to the mystery and glamour conjured around their acts, Jensen leaves you with an awed respect for Leitzel and Codona’s almost perverse devotion to their craft and to the circus life.”
“Dean Jensen has pulled off an amazing temporal triple play. He's told a story that's completely of its time, yet often resonates with ours, and in its tragic dimension feels as timeless as a Greek myth…Jensen re-creates the world of circus life so vividly a reader's almost tempted to check the ground for elephant droppings… Like a gifted ringmaster, Jensen knows what every performer, major or minor, in this show can do, and seems to bring each one on at just the right time. While Leitzel, Codona and their circle may have almost passed from public memory, Jensen brings them back to the center ring in his book.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"For anyone who knows that stardust can be a tarnished and magic is an illusion, Queen of the Air absolutely soars."
"[S]hocking and heartbreaking... Artfully choreographed, this act is sure to draw big audiences."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The true story of Leitzel, a circus aerialist who was the Evelyn Nesbitt of her time, is mesmerizing—part fable, part history and part dream. Meticulously researched, QUEEN OF THE AIR reads like a fine novel.”
—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and What We Saw Last Night
“Daring the devil with consummate grace is what many of the circus arts are all about, aerially or in the ground game. These two nonpareil performers—flyers both—ultimately crashed, but not before putting on a glistering show.”
—Edward Hoagland, author of Children are Diamonds