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Zazel, 1860 - 1937



  • Existence: 7 April 1860 - 8 December 1937


Rossa Matilda Richter aka Zazel was an English aerialist and actor who became known as the first human cannonball. Zazel was born in London on 7 April 1860 to Ernst Karl Richter, a well-known showbusiness talent agent and Susanne Richter, a dancer and circus performer. She started training on ballet, gymnastics, trapeze and the tight rope at a very early age and by the time she was four, she was performing in public as Le Petite Lulu.

From the beginning of her career Zazel performed dangerous stunts and challenging acrobatics of physical strength and dexterity, which made her famous. Over the course of her career she achieved international fame and travelled around the UK, Europe and America with her multiple daredevil acts, which included the human cannon ball, dangerous tightrope stuns, the trapeze and high dive routines.

Zazel first performed as a human cannon ball in 1877 under the management of William Leonard Hunt, aka The Great Faini, a Canadian daredevil famous for catapulting his son Samuel Wasgate, aka Lulu, on stage dressed as a girl.

Zazel married George Oscar Starr, who she met while working with Barnum & Bailey Circus in America. Together they started the Starr Opera Company in 1886, where she took singing roles in some productions and left the circus for a while. She also started to promote the use of safety nets outside the circus to save lives, such as for firefighting and gave demonstrations by jumping out of buildings into a net.

The couple returned to the circus when George became Managing Director of Barnum & Bailey and Zazel went back to her acts.

During the course of her career, she suffered many accidents, however it was in 1891 when she had a nearly fatal fall from the tightrope that she had to retire from performing with a broken back.

Zazel and George moved to England at the turn of the twentieth century where he died in 1915. Zazel died on 8 December 1937 aged 77 at Camberwell House hospital in Peckham.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Circus Friends Association Collection

Reference code: NFA0122
Scope and Contents

This collection consists of a large library of books and journals, as well as archival material including posters, programmes, photographs, films, handbills, research material, scrapbooks, original artwork and many other items of ephemera relating to British, Irish and European circuses

Dates: 1795 - 2020

Newspaper Cuttings and Scapbooks, 1838 - 2007

Reference code: 178G21
Scope and Contents

A collection of newspaper cuttings on circus, circus proprietors and performers and scrapbooks containing newspaper cuttings, posters, programmes and other items of ephemera, covering mainly British circuses and venues such as Belle Vue and also some international circuses.

Dates: 1838 - 2007

Newspaper Cuttings Related to Circus and Performers, 1838 - 1947

Reference code: 178G21.2
Scope and Contents

Newspaper cuttings relating to circus and performers, including Barnum, The American Circus, The Alhambra Palace, Drury Lane Theatre, Pawnee Bill Wild West, Imre Kiralfy, Cirque Imperial de France, Zazel, The Theatrical Observer, The Graphic, The Illustrated London News and The Performer.

Dates: 1838 - 1947