EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


July 7, 2013

A circus of amusement in pages of true book

“Queen of the Air,” by Dean Jensen

c.2013, Crown, $26, 336 pages

The bar was all of an inch in diameter, but it was perfect. You only needed to grab it and hang on, so it didn’t have to be very big. It just had to hold your weight as you swung hand-over-hand, hung upside down, and performed monkeyshines on the monkey bars when you were a kid.

It was so easy then. Those same moves look easy now, especially when done by a professional. But as you’ll see in the new book “Queen of the Air” by Dean Jensen, what’s on the trapeze isn’t what’ll keep you hanging.

Alfredo Codona didn’t believe in love at first sight – until he saw Leitzel.

He was just 16 years old, a relatively minor trapeze artist and soon-to-be heartthrob. She was 18, stunningly beautiful, a “darling with circus audiences everywhere.”

Smitten, he pursued her with single-mindedness – but the Queen of the Air had her career to think about, and she ended the short romance.

Born to an unwed teenager in 1891, Leitzel definitely had circus blood in her veins: Her father had owned a traveling troupe; her grandmother and aunts were all performers; and her mother was a trapeze sensation. It didn’t take long for Leitzel to upstage her.

Alfredo was the long-awaited son of Edward Codona, owner of a traveling circus. Born in Mexico, Alfredo spent most of his youth watching his sister, Victoria, receive tutoring on the high wire. It was her prowess that got him to Chicago. It was she who saw his heart break when Leitzel said their romance was over.

And so, in 1909, Leitzel went her way and Alfredo went his.

She married, divorced, and married again, but always had lovers on the side; powerful men who visited her tent after her performances. Her fame grew, and she made “Mister John” Ringling a lot of money.

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