Samia Gamal in White Cargo - full interview

Samia Gamal spent a few short years in the United States. It was always her dream. During one of her visits to Paris, she met American milionaire Sheppard King III during her performance in a night club and both young people fell in love. They got engaged, and married in November 29, 1951. It might be tempting to think that she got all the attention in the United States just because of her husband. However, as one of the articles of White Cargo mentiones: “Long before she met Sheppard King, Lou Walters, of New York’s Latin Quarter, had signed her to a $2.500 a week contract to come to America, just on the strength of the publicity she had in Paris.“


Samia Gamal was featured in the lead role of Tondeleyo in a play called White Cargo, and performed several shows. Here, I would like to present you some of the pages from the original 1951 program and a full interview, which was printed on the last page of the program. You can read some of the articles directly from the photos, however, I must highlight some interesting statements written in the articles:


  • Samia Gamal is portreyed as Cairo’s Cinderela

  • Badia Masabni is compared to American impressario Billy Rose

  • Samia was 166 cm tall and weighted 54 kg

  • Samia as Oriental equivalent of Lana Turner and Betty Grable

  • Cairo as Hollywood of the Middle East

  • Samia is nicknamed as ‘Sammy’

  • Samia would only marry someone, who would have the same faith as she did

  • Sheppard was trying to write a book about their romance (never published)

  • One of Samia’s ambitions was to loose the tag of ‘belly dancer’




The last mentioned point seemed to truly bother Samia. One of the articles in the program is focused purely on the correct naming for ‘belly dance’, although it has a long introduction about dances across the world. According to it: “‚Belly dance‘ offends her (Samia) and ‚muscle dance‘ shakes her to anger. ‚Oriental‘ partly covers the name for it, but it isn’t complete.“ The author of the article comes out with a grotesque idea, of calling the dance ‚solar plexus dance‘.






Here is the transcript of the original interview for the White Cargo program:


Notes at an interview

Quizzing Samia Gamal


Q. What is your right name? A. Zainab Khalil.


Q. What does it mean? A. Kind-hearted beauty.


Q. How did you get started in show business? A. Dancing in Cairo, Egypt, night club in 1940 when I was 16 years old.


Q. Are you known for your Oriental dancing in Egypt? A. Is Betty Grable known as dancer? I made 37 movies there so the people think of me more as movie actress.


Q. Did you play a "Siren on the Sahara" in those pictures? A. No, I am good girl-like Shirley Temple here.


Q. Do you have any plans for the stage? A. Only "White Cargo" right now.


Q. What did you think about America when you were in Egypt? A. I like it from the time I eat my first American hot dog in Cairo.


Q. Did you find many things different here? A. Well, I see boys and girls walking in street or sitting in restaurants holding hands and even kissing; and no one pay any attention. In Egypt, people would stare and laugh and think you are crazy if you do that.


Q. Are there differences between night clubs here and in Egypt? A. Yes. In Egypt, you have to be rich to go to one; here everybody comes. Here, too, Americans love their own stars as well as those from other countries. In Cairo, outside of few big Egyptian stars, most clubs had stars come over from the Continent. Also, in Egypt, people get up very early, finish work early and cannot stay up late-it is so hot during day. The last show is usually no later than 1:00. Here, most towns stay up till 4:00 in the morning.



Q. What do you think of American women?

A. I think American women so beautiful, I don't see why my husband marry a girl who looks like me.


Q. Do women in America like your work? A. Must be. I am told many dancing teachers get calls from girls who want to learn to do an Oriental dance after I come here.


Q. What do you think of American stripteasers? A. Foolish-taking off clothes after they are on stage.


Q. How about snake dancers? A. Ooh, I hate snakes.


Q. How do you feel about fashions? A. I like American clothes much better than Paris. But that is something else different here. In Egypt and Europe, all shops close between 1 and 4 in the afternoon and open again until about 8 at night. Here, they all close at 5 or 5:30. I just finish rehearsing and start shopping in time to get to a store and the shopkeeper tell me: "Sorry, we are closing now."


Q. How do you like Texas? A. Texas is wonderful-cowboys are wonderful-everything is wonderful. Now I make a little request- please, do not call me "belly dancer"!


Photography: Isabelle Hanneuse

Web design: Studio Martha