Bandwagon’s last issue to be edited by Fred. D. Pfening III features a page-turning story by the mother of circus star Vera Bruce (seen here with Codona, left), from the May 1938 issue of True Story magazine. In it, the trapeze god is depicted as a tragically self-deluded man, who began pressing Vera to date him while his wife Lillian Leitzel was away performing in Copenhagen for two weeks in 1931.
Brazenly, only days before Leitzel’s fatal fall, according to this sensational account, Codona was pursuing Bruce like a hungry animal starved for affection (or would that be lust?) “You know you are going to belong to me, so why make all this fuss?” he insisted.
Unlike most of us with half a brain cell and know that you can't talk somebody else into loving you, or yourself into loving them, Codona apparently would not take no. He comes off looking incredibly stupid and self-deluded. Bruce's mother, Annie Bruce, blames it on Codona's having been able to get whomever he wanted, which I doubt.
"Mary me and I will teach you to love me,” he tells Vera once Leitzel is gone. Bruce insists she does not love him and likely never will, and still, he persists. At last, Bruce surrenders. But her attitude remains romantically indifferent: “I don’t love you, Alfredo. I respect you but I don’t love you.”
When Alfred is grounded from a career-ending injury, we can only imagine Vera finding him even more pitiful. Five years into the marriage, and she files for divorce. While Alfredo meets alone with his ex-wife to be in a Long Beach lawyer's office, Codona pulls out a gun, shoots Vera dead and then turns the gun on himself.
That simple? There is a totally different account offered by equestrian director Fred Bradna in his book Big Top (itself, I must warn you, not always accurate). In quick summation, here is Bradna's take: “Miss Bruce derived satisfaction from thrusting the knife into a woman [Leitzel] to whom she must always defer professionally. To steal Letizel’s husband was a triumph for her.”
My take: Marriage was a rocky road for Leitzel and Codona. I compare Lillian's looks anatomically speaking, to Vera's, and find it enormously easy to believe that Vera, conniving or not, lured Alfredo away in a state of near-uncontrollable passion -- a passion he may never have felt for the comparatively plain Leitzel. After Alfredo suffers a career-ending injury and is sidelined doing less-glamorous jobs, he becomes even more pitiful in Vera's callous eyes. Sorry Mama Anna Bruce: I don't quite buy your very moving account.
Next down this rocky road: An ambivalent farewell to the Pfening Bandwagon.