Tight Wire Dancer
By Dominique Jando
A fourth-generation circus performer (through her mother), Lola Dobritch (1922-2008) was one of the great tight-wire artists of the mid-twentieth century, famous for crossing her wire on her toes like a ballerina—still a rare feat in her times—which, along with her natural grace and her use of a feather fan instead of an umbrella for balancing, won her to be advertised as “The Pavlova of the Silver Strand.”
She was born Vera Dobrich—the correct English spelling of her name (1)—on October 14, 1922 in Sofia, Bulgaria, to Alexandre and Anna Dobrich. Alexandre and his brother, Lazar (1881-1970), owned the Royal Dobrich Circus in Bulgaria. “Lola”, as Vera would become known (she was often featured as "Miss Lola"), learned all traditional circus disciplines from her parents and took ballet classes in Sofia, before specializing as a wire dancer. She made her debut on the wire at age ten, in 1932, in the family circus.
In 1946, Lola Dobritch married the German acrobat on unicycle Emil Goetschi (1921-2002), whose remarkable novelty act with brothers Carl and Hans was well known all over Europe, and she became part of the Goetschis’ act while continuing to perform her own tight-wire act. The following year, 1947, the Goetschis signed a contract for their two acts with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and went to the United States.
Lola Dobritch made her debut with The Greatest Show On Earth at Madison Square Garden in New York on April 9, 1947. She performed in a triple tight-wire display that included herself on ring one, the amazing Reverhos in the center ring, and The Joannides on ring three; all three acts were making their American debut. Lola and the Goetschis remained three seasons with Ringling Bros., playing dates in Europe or in America during the winter.
American Circus Star
Lola and Emil Goetschi eventually settled in the U.S., where they continued to perform in circuses, variety shows and nightclubs—notably in Las Vegas. In 1949, Lola’s brother, Al Dobritch, had also come to the United States, where he became an influential circus agent, impresario and producer until his tragic death in Las Vegas in 1971. Lola, who took great pride in her brother’s success, often worked for him.
In 1951, she returned briefly to the Ringling show for the filming of Cecil B. DeMilles’s circus epic, The Greatest Show On Earth (1952), in which she was featured. The legendary film director must have impressed Lola: After DeMille had toured with the Ringling show in 1949 to prepare his movie, Lola nicknamed her son, Emil, Jr. (b.1948), “DeMille.” (Emil Goetschi, Jr. would eventually join the Goetschis' unicycle act, before performing his own juggling and tight-wire act.) Lola also appeared on several television shows, in Europe and in the United States, notably on CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show and on ABC’s Hollywood Palace.
After their retirement in Sarasota, Florida—the former home of the Ringling show, where they had settled soon after their arrival in the United States—Emil and Lola Goetschi managed several rental properties, which they had bought over the years, and stayed closely in touch with Srasota's large circus community. Emil Goetschi passed away in 2001. In 2003, Lola Dobritch was honored with a plaque on the Circus Ring of Fame, in St. Armands Circle in Sarasota. Her health began to fail in the last months of her life, and she passed away on November 17, 2008.
(1): The name should be spelled Dobrich in English; Dobritch is the French phonetic spelling of the Bulgarian name, Добрич; French was the diplomatic language used for the translation of names from the cyrillic to the latin alphabet until the 1990s.