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People Top 5
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PEOPLE Top 5 are the most-viewed stories on the site over the past three days, updated every 60 minutes
- April 04, 1977
- Vol. 7
- No. 13
Dolly Jacobs Is the Hot Star of the New Dynasty of the Circus
Entering the family business may be anathema to her generation, but Dolly became a Ringling Bros, show girl at 13. She later dropped out to train for three months with her godparents, Margie and Joe Geiger. (Joe is one of the few survivors of the legendary Flying Wallendas.) Dolly's goal was to recreate an "esteemed empyrean" (in the hyperbole of the ringmaster) gymnastic ballet that had not been brought off in decades. Impresario Irvin Feld was so enthused about Dolly's now famous try-out in Washington that he hired her to premiere that night.
Now, at 20, Dolly is one of the youngest and one of the few American stars of the 107th edition of the Ringling Bros, tour. "We always loved the circus and dreamed of being in it," says Dolly, speaking also for her older sister, now a trapezist for a lesser U.S. troupe. "But Papa insisted we stay at home with mother in Sarasota," she recalls. "I never really liked school. I was kind of an outsider, because I was with the circus." Jacobs finally relented, and the family joined him in a stateroom on the circus train while the girls finished high school through correspondence courses and worked part-time as show girls. Jacobs says defensively, "I left them often enough to realize that I wanted the whole family together, but I didn't push the circus."
On the road, Dolly lives on the circus train in a compartment next to her parents with a parrot and Belinka, a puppy of Jacobs' famed show dog Knucklehead. She shuns riding the train from city to city, preferring her recently purchased Toyota. At night she does the cooking for her parents. "Mom did her time," she says. "Now it's my turn to take care of them. Most nights I do German dishes for Papa." (He was born there.)
Dolly had a thing a few years ago with a Bulgarian performer (she's fluent in the language), but currently she doesn't date, much to her father's relief. She doubts it would be a circus person anyway. "My stakes are high," she explains. "Besides, most of the guys around here you wouldn't take a second look at."
Jacobs can't seem to praise Dolly to her face, but standing in the wings watching his daughter work, he says quietly to a stagehand, "She's a terrific performer. I won't have to work much longer." Dolly's mom, who now runs a circus concession souvenir stand, steers clear of the big top while Dolly is on. "I'm a typical mother. If I know she's having difficulties, I don't want to watch. But I'm proud of her," she says. "I was never that good. Every generation gets better. I'm just glad when the music is over and I know she's all right."
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