Cristiani Family

Cristiani Family


Cristiani Family

Inducted into the Ring of Fame: 1995

Circus Profession: Equestrian Bareback

Established: 1840

cristiani family plaque


The Cristiani circus family can trace its roots back to 1840 when Emilio Cristiani, a gymnast and bareback rider, joined a traveling circus in Pisa, Italy.

While performing in Brussels, Belgium in 1933, the troupe was “discovered” by Pat Valdo of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The family came to America in the spring of 1934, making an appearance in Madison Square Garden, however because of a dispute with the Loyal-Repenski riding act, the Cristianis were moved to the Ringling-owned Hagenbeck-Wallace circus for the remainder of the 1934 season, continuing with Hagenbeck-Wallace 4-Paw Sells in 1935.

In 1936 the family moved over to the Ringling-owned Al G. Barnes Circus where they introduced a teeterboard act to their repetoire. They remained with the newly named Al G. Barnes Sells-Floto circus through the 1937 season. The act moved to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1938, however the labor strike that cut the season short that year had the family finishing out the season with “Al G. Barnes and Sells-Floto Presenting Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Stupendous New Features” for the remainder of the season.

In 1939, when this poster was used, they were back with Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey where they continued to be a featured attraction through the 1942 season. The act appeared in Robert Ringling’s indoor circus at Madison Square Garden in 1943 prior to leaving the Ringling organization and becoming circus owners themselves

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Codona was born in Sonora, Mexico, to a circus trapeze family that became famous in the Ringling Brothers Circus. His father owned their circus and his mother, Hortense Buislay, came from a great family of trapeze performers. He began appearing in the circus at 7½ months when his father, a flyer, balanced him on his hand for the opening act. By 1913 Edward had formed a family act that included Alfredo, his brother Abelardo (known as Lalo), and his sister Victoria.[1]

Alfredo married his first wife, Clara Curtin (also an aerialist) in 1917 after she left her husband. They were divorced in 1927. In 1928 Codona married aerialist Lillian Leitzel, who died in 1931, aged 39, in Copenhagen, Denmark when one of her hand rings snapped and she fell to a concrete floor. Both were tempestuous, star performers whose personalities were well matched. Alfredo was famed for his triple somersault, which he regularly incorporated in his act.[2] He was the first male performer to do so.[3]

Codona later married a member of their trapeze act, Vera Bruce, in 1932. He was featured in the 1932 film Swing High (which is currently available to view on YouTube) and was stunt double for Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan the Ape Man as well as its sequel Tarzan and His Mate. Alfredo continued to incorporate extremely dangerous stunts into his act and in 1933, he suffered an injury that prevented high aerial acts in the circus and retired from the trapeze in 1934.[4]

Codona’s distress about his second wife’s death and inability to perform led to the deterioration of his third marriage. He committed suicide by gunshot in Long Beach, California, after shooting Vera Bruce during a division of their property in front of her horrified mother (newspaper accounts of the day incorrectly stated that Vera was his second wife).[5] She died the next day.[6] Codona was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery at Leitzel’s grave at his request.[7] Nowadays his family are travellers that live in Scotland and travel in Scotland.

He was portrayed by René Deltgen in the 1940 Nazi German film Die drei Codonas (i.e. The Three Codonas).

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