Of Buckskin Betty and Colorado Fred

January 15 was the birthday of Lady Beth Bancroft (Elizabeth Jane Wrisley, 1902-1985), billed also as Miss Betty, Lady Betty and especially Buckskin Betty.

1954 can handily be said to be Betty’s biggest year in show business; she and her husband Colorado Fred Bancroft (1885-1963) toured with Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Baily Circus that year, and Betty was featured on the TV game show What’s My Line? In her case, the answer to the titular question was “lady sword swallower”. Amusingly, she’d only been at that trade a few months at that juncture. Previously she was more known for wild west skills. She was the “target” (to be avoided) in Fred’s knife throwing act “The Wheel of Death”. Both Bancrofts were sharpshooters; Betty also did rope and whip tricks.

Betty suffered some sort of injury that made the Ringling gig shortlived. After that they returned to the kind of small circus and carnival shows they had been working throughout the south since the early 1940s. The whole family got into the act. Their daughter Zoe Ann Bancroft (b. 1926) is said to have worked the blade box. Son Harry (1914-1979) was a tattoo artist and performed with a trained chimp. Much more on the family can be found at the Sword Swallowers Hall of Fame.

To find out more about show biz past and present (including circus) consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous