High Wire, Swaypole
Although the name of Camilla Mayer is part of circus lore and legend, there have been actually several high wireA tight, heavy metallic cable placed high above the ground, on which wire walkers do crossings and various acrobatic exercises. Not to be confused with a tight wire. artists by that name. Camilla Mayer was the generic name adopted by the star female performers of the famous high wireA tight, heavy metallic cable placed high above the ground, on which wire walkers do crossings and various acrobatic exercises. Not to be confused with a tight wire. troupe of Camilio Mayer. There has been an original Camilla Mayer, however (and for many, the only one): Her real name was Lotte Witte (1918-1940). She was born in 1918 in Stettin, Germany (today Szczecin, in Poland), the daughter of a plumber. An artistcally-minded and very attractive young girl, she was sixteen when she joined Camilio's troupe in 1934. Fearless and talented, she soon became the troupe's star attraction(Russian) A circus act that can occupy up to the entire second half of a circus performance., and Camilio gave her as a "nom-de-scène" not only his family name, but also his first name: Lotte became known as Camilla Mayer.
In 1936, when the troupe performed outdoors in the popular seaside resort of Atlantic City, in the United States, Lotte made the headlines performing on a fifty-three-meter-high (175 feet) swaypoleA high, flexible vertical pole (originally made of a single piece of wood, and today of fiberglass) atop of which an acrobat performs various balancing tricks., a daring feat that was heralded as a world record. Sadly, it was with a lesser feat that Lotte-Camilla lost her life on January 20, 1940, when her much shorter twenty-meter swaypoleA high, flexible vertical pole (originally made of a single piece of wood, and today of fiberglass) atop of which an acrobat performs various balancing tricks. broke during a performance of the Menschen-Tiere-Sensationen show at the Deutschlande Halle in Berlin. Already famous by then, the name of Camilla Mayer entered the circus pantheon through Lotte—a honor often bestowed upon celebrated artists who have left the field much too early.
But Camilla Mayer, regardless of her real name, had become the drawing card of Camilio Mayer's troupe, and thus two other artists were subsequently chosen to replace Lotte as Camilla Mayer: First, Ruth Hempel, from Breslau, Germany, then for a short time after Ruth Hempel's departure from the troupe, Ruth Barwinske (1926-2005), who married Bob Gerry in 1947. (Alois Geryk, known as Bob Gerry, had been a member of the Camilio Mayer Troupe). Finally, Camilio met Annemarie Füldner in Stedten an der Ilm (near Weimar in Germany); Annemarie became his wife and she performed with him around the world as Camilla Mayer from 1946 to 1961.
The Camilla Mayer Troupe
As various members of the Camilio Mayer Troupe came and went over the years (a frequent occurrence with large performing troupes), Ruth Hempel/Camilla left the troupe in 1943 to create her own Camilla Mayer Troupe with another Camilio Mayer's alumnus, Hans Zimmer. Unfortunately, the new troupe was banned from performing: Ruth Hempel was Jewish, which finally caught the Nazis' attention, especially with her new prominence as head of a troupe. (It is possible that Hans Zimmer was Jewish too.) The troupe resumed its activities only at the end of WWII. In 1947, Ruth and her troupe participated in Kurt Krigar's documentary short on the original Camilla Mayer (Lotte Witte), Artisten unter den Wolken. As it happened, Hans Zimmer was sued In 1948 by the only "true" Camilla Mayer, Camilio Mayer's own daughter, for wrongfully using her name—although she had never been herself a performer.
Then, another Camilla Mayer Troupe appeared in 1948, when a French promoter rescued Hans Zimmer's bankrupt troupe, and relaunched it under the management of a high wireA tight, heavy metallic cable placed high above the ground, on which wire walkers do crossings and various acrobatic exercises. Not to be confused with a tight wire. artist by the name of Werner. The Camilla Mayer of this new troupe was Margarethe Zimmerman. In 1949, she and her namesake troupe performed with the newly-born Radio Circus, where Margarethe appeared either as Camilla Mayer, Mam'zelle Lotus, or Margarethe Lotus, according the mood of the moment. Afterward, the troupe went on to work for a few years with other French circuses, before disappearing at the beginning of the 1960s.
As for Ruth Hempel, she was featured (as Camilla Mayer) at the Cirque d'Hiver-Bouglione in Paris in 1948. As a footnote, she was the biological mother of the multi-talented Gipsy Bouglione-Gruss, who was adopted when she was only one-day-old by Firmin and Violette Bouglione. (The fact, which has never been publicized, is little known, yet the resemblance between Gipsy and her biological mother is striking.)
- Video: Camilla Mayer (Ruth Hempel), High Wire, at the Cirque d'Hiver (Paris, 1948)
- Biography: Camillio Mayer
- Adolf George, Camilio Mayer, der Napoleon der Lüfte, (Frankfurt/Oder, Trowitzsch und Sohn, 1921)