Today is the birthday of Jack Wilson (1894-1970), one-third of the team of Wilson, Keppel and Betty. Actually, the core team consisted of Wilson and his partner Joe Keppel; the two worked with a succession of “Betties”. over the years. The act was a comedy dance routine that parodied the vaudeville vogue for all things Egyptian in the early 20th century. Tall and scrawny, the two men would dress in matching middle eastern costumes and wear similar make-up, and exploit their funny physiques in imitation of hieroglyphics , with Betty as the centerpiece. They also specialized in sand dancing, shuffling and sliding on the noisy, scraping sand.
The two men met while working at Colleano’s Circus in Australia. Wilson was from Liverpool; Keppel was from Ireland. Coincidentally, each had emigrated to the U.S. in 1909/1910 and each had danced in vaudeville. In 1919 they returned to the States doing a comedy acrobatic and tap act. In 1928, Betty Knox joined the team (she would be succeeded by close to a dozen others during the life of the act). When vaudeville died, the team moved back to the U.K. and worked out the rest of their careers in music hall, which is where they made their fame. They retired in 1963. Here they are at work!
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on comedy history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc