Our friends at Crown have been talking to us about Dean Jensen's Queen of the Air for close to a year now. I knew we wanted to do something special for our event, which is on Thursday, June 13, 7 pm, at Boswell. So since Mr. Jensen is a gallery owner and art critic, I thought it would be approrpirate for us to do some art of our own, and I asked Stacie if she might put together one of her incredible dioramas, this time with a circus theme.Mel also helped, by making that beautiful pink and red crepe paper adorned Leitzel.
And of course I knew we had to do a special blog. I had dreams of writing about the history of circuses in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, taking my father to see the tents at the circus parade, the struggles of the Baraboo Circus World Museum, and the rows of chairs that would line the streets days before the Great Circus Parade passed though town. Interesting yes, but would that convince you to buy the book or at least come seen Jensen? I had no idea. But then I thought, why not just talk to my fellow Jensen fan Mel about the book, much like Halley and I like to talk about cards. And that's what we did.
D: Did I tell you to read Queen of the Air?
M: You said forlornly, “I don’t have anyone reading this book” and I said “I’lll do it.”
D: My heroine.
M: I read the first three paragraphs of the prologue as soon as you gave it to me and went home and almost finished it in one sitting Well, a couple hundred pages that night.
D: What did you love about the book? I mean what did you like about it? Or did you love it?
M: I did. I did love it!
I love how narrative the prose is, how it’s like listening to someone tell a story, instead of reading. It reads like fiction.
D: I love the way it captures a world when this was our entertainment.
M: The time period is fascinating too. She was so young, eight when she started performing. And there was that guy who carried his baby when they did their trapeze act.
D: It’s such a doomed romance.
M: Terribly sad! It’s also awesome how beloved she is. She’s the kind of celebrity was different. She was everyone’s darling.
Nobody wanted her to fall. Nowadays we want our celebrities to fall.
D: Maybe because they were worried about her literally falling. So there’s this motherly concern in addition to the glamorous aura.
M: She might have been young and overly sexualized, but really it was about how she, a woman, was the highest paid peformers of all the performers, including men.
D: But of course way less than the owners.
M: The thing that kills me is that she performed two shows a day, which means more than 200 revolutions a day, which required her arm to pop in and out of socket, at a time before we knew how to treat strained ligaments.
D: I didn’t even consider the health ramifications. I was too worried about her falling.
M: You weren’t thinking about that gouge she had in her wrist?
D: I am insensitive
M: No circus union!
M: Consider this. Her mom was a burlesque dancer into her forties
D: I think the mother-daughter dynamic of the book is as interesting as that between the lovers, or the one between the performer and the audience.
M: It was so unhealthy and competive. And yet tender, because she taught her everything she knew.
D: Does she know at eight that she’s destroying her mother’s career, or at least self-worth?
M: Completely undermining her mother in front of thousands of people. And on top of that, her mother didn’t want to be a mother.
D: Oh that horrible situation with her Mom contracted out to that awful man!
M: And yet Nellie Pelikan was able to give her kids a world class education. (Pause)
D: Alfredo Cordona was a crazy figure, wasn’t he?
M: He oozed machismo. And the way he carried on and yet was completely jealous of her every move.
D: Oh, it was awful.
M: And Leitzel had this beauty and the beast complex. What losers she married!
D: And poor Vera.
M: A lot of people wouldn’t have had the opportunities they had if it had not been for Leitzel. Leitzel rescued Vera and made her part of Alfredo’s act.
D: She made him dump Cora. She didn’t know.
M: And we haven’t even talked about the Silver King, Mr. Leamy. He was like precursor to Hugh Hefner. I see Richard Gere in the movie.
D: Yes, they were the Leamy Ladies, like the Playboy Bunnies with different standards. Who do you see for Leitzel?
M: How about Marion Cotillard? But of course she’d need to be able to do accents.
D: This book has everything, doesn’t it?
M: It really does. It’s both enlightening and voyeuristic.
D: Should I remind people when the event is?
M: Yes, you should.
D: It’s Thursday, June 13, 7 pm, at Boswell.