Lillian Rouseau
Wheel of Death
Born: Paris, France, 1932

Lillian was born to a famous circus family, The Death Defying Rouseau’s. Her parents, Veronique and Alaine, were third generation high wire performers. The Rouseau’s traveled around Europe and Russia performing before Kings, Queens, Princes, Czars, Presidents, Dignitaries and all other forms of royalty and notable people of the time. Circus performers in Europe are regarded with the highest respect and admiration. They are revered, like opera stars and actors. The Rouseau’s act was billed as “The World’s Most Death Defying Display of Bravery,” cheating death and injury at every performance. The act involved pyrotechnics and extremely sharp weapons and objects which were tossed at each performer while high above the center ring, as they balanced on a high wire or dangled and twirled from ropes or trapezes.

The Rouseau’s enjoyed a lavish and wonderful lifestyle in Paris, they were the toast of Europe. They, as well as their children, were always dressed in the finest French couture... Veronique in large colorful hats with feathers, kid gloves with pearl buttons, erotic high heels and silk embroidered dresses with a fur tossed over her shoulders. Alaine was regarded as a French dandy, with his signature top hat that he had in many colors, a silk scarf, beautifully tailored suits and handmade leather shoes. Lillian was the youngest of the Rouseau children. Francois was the eldest, and Collette was the middle child. When each of the children reached the age of eight they were introduced into the family act, usually remaining on the ground dressed in smaller versions of their parents wonderfully elaborate glittering costumes, while their parents defied death from high above their heads.

Life was good until the War. Then everything changed for the Rouseau’s, and everyone else. Tension and unrest in Paris and all of Europe increased daily. Friends of the Rouseau’s were mysteriously disappearing...over night it seemed. Veronique and Alaine were afraid about what might happen to them and their children. They were Jewish, and feared persecution and encampment... they knew that they had to leave their beloved city of Paris and somehow get to America. They had seen newsreels and photographs of America and knew that they would be free and above all, they would be safe. Alaine had a friend who was in the French Resistance. He arranged for the Rouseau’s to leave Paris, but instructed them to take the contents of three suitcases:“only what you can carry can you take with you.” They had to leave behind the glamour, the notoriety, the art, the clothes, all of things that they had collected throughout their travels. One dark night they escaped the “City of Lights,” leaving behind all they knew for the vast unknown. They traveled under false names with false seemed to take months to reach America....yet it only took two weeks.

They arrived at Ellis Island where they were inspected for diseases, interrogated, photographed and given a new last name, Rosen. The Rosen’s spoke broken English but still understood some of what was being asked of them. They had always taken such pride in their meticulous appearance and that of their three beautiful children. Now, however, Veronique and Alaine wore their pride as they had worn their fancy hats and lavish clothes. They didn’t know anyone in America but decided to travel to Hollywood, the land of great stars and performers. Finding work was difficult, as no one was looking for Circus performers. Alaine, now known as Al, found work as a stunt man for Paramount Pictures, Veronique, known now as Vera, found work as a seamstress and dresser to the stars on the Paramount lot. They missed their life of fame, fortune and excitement but were grateful for their new life in America. The children attended school and learned English. The Rosen’s took great pride in learning the language and adapting to the American way of life. The children had also been given new names: Francois became Frank, Collette became Carla, and Lillian became Lilly.

After two years of struggling to make ends meet, the Rosen’s settled into their new life. Then, on a nondescript day, they saw a poster announcing the arrival of the G.E.Circus. They were beside themselves with excitement. They bought tickets for the Sunday matinee and wore their finest outfits. As soon as they entered the Big Top, the smell of sawdust and sound of the band brought tears to their eyes. The spotlights, glitter, roar of the tigers and tricks of the elephants, took them back to the days when they were the head liners. In their pockets, they folded some of the old press releases and photographs of the “Death Defying Rouseau’s” in hopes of meeting the owner of the circus. When they found him, he jumped with excitement, honored to be in their presence. He offered them jobs, reestablishing their act as part of the G.E. Circus. They changed their name back to Rouseau and after weeks of training, were ready to defy death and dazzle the crowds. Their children, now older, were part of their act, performing with them on the high wire.

Veronique and Alaine performed until they retired in 1975, and moved to Gibsonville, Florida, to live in a trailer park community. Francois, Collette and Lillian kept the family act going until 1985 when Francois and Collette retired to live with their parents, leaving Lillian to fend for herself. Lillian developed vertigo and could no longer perform on the high wire. She married Bob The Knife Thrower, and developed their own act. Lillian still loves performing but misses the family’s act and the glamour they shared. She frequently takes out photographs in her trailer, from a shoe box she keeps under her bed, looking at her past, remembering the “City of Lights” and the “Death Defying Roseau’s,” where they were the toast of Europe.