Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Three That Sent Up The Nile: "Cleopatra's Nightmare" (1933) - Jack Wilson, Joe Kepple, Betty Knox


While looking up some material for a brief blog celebrating Queen Cleopatra's impact on history I happened upon this video of a music hall trio (pictured above in 1932) that started in the 1920's and continued for decades. I found it both bizarre and curiously enjoyable.

A bit of background, courtesy of Wikipedia:

"Wilson, Keppel and Betty were a popular British music hall act in the middle decades of the 20th century who capitalised on the trend for Egyptian imagery following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Their stage act, called the "sand dance", was a parody of Egyptian postures, combined with references to Arabic costume. The lithe and extremely lanky Wilson and Keppel, who wore long mustaches and made up to emphasize the sharp angularity of the features so as to appear almost identical, would demonstrate their impressive suppleness in adopting wild gestures and dancing in identical "stereo" movements (using gestures vaguely reminiscent of Egyptian wall paintings), while Betty watched their antics. Theirs was a soft-shoe routine performed on a layer of sand spread on the stage to create a rhythmic scratching with their shuffling feet. The act was usually performed to the familiar Egyptian Ballet (1875), by Alexandre Luigini.

"Jack Wilson (29 January 1894- 24 August 1970), was born in Liverpool in England, and emigrated to the USA at a young age, making his stage debut in 1909 as a high-kicking dancer. He then travelled to Australia, where he joined Colleano's Circus. During the First World War Wilson served with the Royal Navy. Returning to Australia after the war, he met Joe Keppel (May 10, 1895- 1977), who was born in County Cork in Ireland. Like Wilson, Keppel had emigrated to the USA at a young age, and in 1910 made his stage debut in Albany as a tap dancer. During the First World War he served in the Royal Flying Corps, and after made his way to Australia, also joining Colleano's Circus, where he teamed up with Jack Wilson.

This clip is apparently from a 1933 variety-show movie. Betty Knox--the fetching lady in the middle of the group --was an American-born dancer and comedienne, originally a vaudeville partner with the great comedian Jack Benny. The trio came together for what was supposed to be a brief engagement in London. Their act lasted as a long-running music hall staple.

Betty later "retired" form the act in 1940 and became a war correspondent. She also covered the Nuremberg Trails. Her daughter, Patsy, became the new "Betty" in the act, which kept going well into the Fifties in such venues as London's Palladium. After a couple more "Bettys" danced with them in various routines, Jack Wilson and his partner retired in 1963.


  1. A bit of an encore from the same trio here at a London nightclub, possible The Trocadaro.

  2. Dang, the 2nd one ended too soon! lol
    These are ADORABLE!! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Glad you enjoyed them, Jacquie. A nice little nugget of fun from the pre-TV past.

    The second one was indeed all too brief. I'd love to see a good print of their whole act!