- W. C. Fields
W. C. Fields Born William Claude Dukenfield
January 29, 1880
Darby, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died December 25, 1946(aged 66)
Pasadena, California, U.S.
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California Other names Charles Bogle
Mahatma Kane Jeeves
Occupation Actor, comedian, juggler, writer Years active 1902–1946 Spouse Harriet Hughes (m. 1900–1946) (his death) 1 child
Bessie Poole (girlfriend) 1 child
Carlotta Monti (girlfriend)
Children William Claude Fields, Jr.
William Morris (illegitimate)
William Claude Dukenfield (January 29, 1880 – December 25, 1946), better known as W. C. Fields, was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer. Fields was known for his comic persona as a misanthropic and hard-drinking egotist who remained a sympathetic character despite his snarling contempt for dogs, children and women.
The characterization he portrayed in films and on radio was so strong it became generally identified with Fields himself. It was maintained by the movie-studio publicity departments at Fields's studios (Paramount and Universal) and further established by Robert Lewis Taylor's 1949 biography W.C. Fields, His Follies and Fortunes. Beginning in 1973, with the publication of Fields's letters, photos, and personal notes in grandson Ronald Fields's book W.C. Fields by Himself, it has been shown that Fields was married (and subsequently estranged from his wife), and he financially supported their son and loved his grandchildren.
However, Madge Evans, a friend and actress, told a visitor in 1972 that Fields so deeply resented intrusions on his privacy by curious tourists walking up the driveway to his Los Angeles home that he would hide in the shrubs by his house and fire BB pellets at the trespassers' legs. Several years later Groucho Marx told a similar story on his live performance album, An Evening with Groucho.
- 1 Biography
- 2 On stage
- 3 Films
- 4 On radio
- 5 Final years
- 6 Death
- 7 Unrealized film projects
- 8 Influence and legacy
- 9 Filmography
- 10 Further reading
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Fields was born William Claude Dukenfield in Darby, Pennsylvania. His father, James L. Dukenfield, was from an English-Irish Catholic family that emigrated to America from Sheffield, England in 1854. James Dukenfield served in Company M of the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War and was wounded in 1863. Fields's mother, Kate Spangler Felton, 15 years younger than her husband, was a Protestant of German ancestry. The 1876 Philadelphia City Directory lists James Dukenfield as a clerk. After marrying, he worked as an independent produce merchant and a part-time hotel-keeper.
Claude Dukenfield (as he was known) worked at the Strawbridge and Clothier department store and in an oyster house, before he left home at age 18 (not 11, as many biographies have said). At age 15, he had begun performing a juggling act at church and theater shows, and entered vaudeville as a "tramp juggler" using the name W. C. Fields. He soon was traveling as 'The Eccentric Juggler', and included amusing asides and increasing amounts of comedy into his act, becoming a headliner in North America and Europe. In 1906 he made his Broadway debut in a musical comedy, The Ham Tree.
Fields embellished stories of his youth, but his home seems to have been a reasonably happy one. His family supported his ambitions for the stage, and saw him off on the train for his first stage tour. His father visited him for two months in England, when Fields was performing there in music halls.
Fields was known among his friends as "Bill". Edgar Bergen also called him Bill in the radio shows (while Charlie McCarthy called him many names). Fields played himself in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, and his 'niece' called him "Uncle Bill". In one scene he introduced himself: "I'm W.C., uh, Bill Fields." When he was portrayed in films as having a son, he often named the character "Claude", after his own son. He was sometimes billed in England as "Wm. C. Fields", due to "W.C." being the British slang for a water closet. His public use of initials was a commonplace formality of the era in which he grew up. "W.C. Fields" also fit more easily onto a marquee than "W.C. Dukenfield".
Fields married a fellow vaudevillian, chorus girl Harriet "Hattie" Hughes, on April 8, 1900. Their son, William Claude Fields, Jr., was born on July 28, 1904. Although Fields was "an avowed atheist [who] regarded all religions with the suspicion of a seasoned con man", he yielded to Hattie's wish to have their son baptized.
At the time Fields was away from Hattie on tour in England. By 1907, however, he and Hattie had separated; she had been pressing him to stop touring and settle down to a respectable trade, while he was unwilling to give up his own livelihood. Until his death, Fields continued to correspond with Hattie and voluntarily sent child-support payments.
He had another son, born on August 15, 1917, with girlfriend Bessie Poole, named William Rexford Fields Morris. Bessie was an established Ziegfeld Follies performer and met Fields while performing in New York City at the famous Amsterdam Theater. Her beauty and quick wit attracted Fields, who was the featured act from 1916 until 1922. She was killed in a bar fight several years later, leaving their son to be raised in foster care, where he acquired the surname Morris by his foster-mother. Fields sent voluntary support to young Bill in care of his foster mother until he graduated from high school, when he sent $300 as a gift.
Fields lived with Carlotta Monti (1907–1993) after they met in 1932, and they began a relationship that lasted until his death in 1946. Monti had small roles in a couple of Fields' films, and in 1971 wrote a biography, "W.C. Fields and Me", which was made into a motion picture at Universal Studios in 1976.
Fields and alcohol
Fields's screen character was often fond of alcohol, and this trait has become part of the Fields legend. In his younger days as a juggler, Fields himself never drank, because he didn't want to impair his functions while performing. The loneliness of his constant touring and traveling, however, compelled Fields to keep liquor on hand for fellow performers, so he could invite them to his dressing room for companionship and cocktails. Only then did Fields cultivate a fondness for alcohol.
Fields expressed his feelings to Gloria Jean (playing his niece) in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break: "I was in love with a beautiful blonde once, dear. She drove me to drink. That's the one thing I am indebted to her for." Equally memorable was a line in the 1940 film My Little Chickadee: "Once, on a trek through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew...and were forced to live on food and water for several days!" The oft-repeated anecdote that Fields once claimed he never drank water "because fish fornicate in it" is unsubstantiated.
On movie sets, Fields kept handy a vacuum flask of mixed martinis, which he referred to as his "pineapple juice". While filming Tales of Manhattan, a prankster switched the contents of the flask, filling it with actual pineapple juice. Upon discovering the prank, Fields was heard to yell, "Who put pineapple juice in my pineapple juice?!"
In 1936 Fields became gravely ill, his health worsened by his heavy drinking. Fields's film series came to a halt while he recovered; he made one last film for Paramount, The Big Broadcast of 1938. The comedian's troublesome behavior kept other producers away, and Fields was professionally idle until he made his debut on radio. By then Fields was very sick and suffering from delirium tremens.
Fields started as a juggler in vaudeville, appearing in the makeup of a genteel "tramp" with a scruffy beard and shabby tuxedo. He juggled cigar boxes, hats, and a variety of other objects in what appears to have been a unique and fresh act, parts of which are reproduced in some of his films. Fields confined his act to pantomime so that he could play international theaters. Fields toured several continents and became a world-class juggler and an international star. He worked bits of juggling into many of his films. A good portion of his act is contained in The Old Fashioned Way.
Back in America, Fields found that he could get more laughs by adding dialogue to his routines. His trademark mumbling patter and sarcastic asides were developed during this time. (According to the A&E Biography program about Fields (1994), when he was young his mother would sit with him on the front steps and mumble comments about the passersby.)
He soon starred on Broadway in Florenz Ziegfeld's Ziegfeld Follies revues. There he delighted audiences with a wild pool skit, complete with bizarrely shaped cues and a custom-built table used for a number of hilarious gags and surprising trick shots. His pool game is reproduced, at least in part, in some of his films, notably in Six of a Kind (1934).
Fields starred in a couple of short comedies, filmed in New York in 1915. His stage commitments prevented him from doing more movie work until 1924. He reprised his Poppy role in a silent-film adaptation, retitled Sally of the Sawdust (1925) and directed by D.W. Griffith. Following this, he starred in It's The Old Army Game (1926) which featured his friend Louise Brooks, later to become a screen legend for her role in G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box in Germany. The film included a silent version of the porch sequence which would one day be expanded in the sound film It's a Gift (1934). Fields wore a scruffy-looking, clip-on mustache in virtually all of his silent films, discarding it only after his first sound feature film, Her Majesty Love, his only Warner Brothers production.
Fields made four short subjects for comedy pioneer Mack Sennett in 1932 and 1933, distributed through Paramount Pictures. During this period, Paramount began featuring Fields in full-length comedies, and by 1934 he was a major movie star. It was for one of the films of this period (International House) that outtakes of one scene (Fields, and two other actors) allegedly recorded the only moving image record of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. This footage was later revealed to have been faked as a publicity stunt for the movie.
He often contributed to the scripts of his films, under unusual pseudonyms such as the seemingly prosaic "Charles Bogle", which appeared on most of his films in the 1930s; "Otis Criblecoblis", which contains an embedded homophone for "scribble"; and "Mahatma Kane Jeeves", a play on mahatma and on a phrase an aristocrat might use when about to leave the house: "My hat, my cane, Jeeves". In features such as It's a Gift and Man on the Flying Trapeze, he is reported to have written or improvised more or less all of his own dialogue and material, leaving story structure to other writers.
In his films, he often played hustlers such as carnival barkers and card sharps, spinning yarns and distracting his marks. He had an affection for unlikely names and many of his characters bore them. Some examples are:
- "Larson E. [read "Larceny"] Whipsnade" (You Can't Cheat an Honest Man);
- "Egbert Sousé" [pronounced 'soo-ZAY', but pointing toward a synonym for a 'drunk'] (The Bank Dick);
- "Ambrose Wolfinger" (Man on the Flying Trapeze); and,
- "The Great McGonigle" (The Old-Fashioned Way).
The carnival fraud was not the only character Fields played. He was also fond of casting himself as the victim: a hapless householder constantly under the thumb of his shrewish wife and/or mother-in-law. His 1934 classic It's a Gift included his stage sketch of trying to escape his nagging family by sleeping on the back porch, and being bedeviled by noisy neighbors and traveling salesmen. That film, along with films such as You're Telling Me! and Man on the Flying Trapeze, ended happily with a windfall profit that restored his standing in his screen families.
Although lacking formal education, he was well read and a lifelong admirer of author Charles Dickens, whose characters' unusual names inspired Fields to do likewise for his various characters. He achieved one of his career ambitions by playing the character Mr. Micawber, in MGM's David Copperfield in 1935. In 1936, Fields re-created his signature stage role in Poppy for Paramount Pictures.
Fields had a small cadre of supporting players that he employed in several films:
- Kathleen Howard, as a nagging wife or antagonist.
- Alison Skipworth, as his wife (although 16 years his senior), usually in a supportive role rather than the stereotypical nag.
- Grady Sutton, typically as a country bumpkin type, as either a foil or an antagonist to Field's character.
- Baby LeRoy, a pre-school child fond of playing pranks on Fields' characters.
- Tammany Young, as a dim-witted, not intentionally harmful assistant; appeared in seven Fields films until his sudden death from heart failure in 1936.
- Bill Wolfe, a gaunt looking character, usually a Fields foil.
- Jan Duggan, an oldish woman (actually about Fields' age) who played small roles as a widow type. It was about her character that Fields said in The Old Fashioned Way, "She's all dressed up like a well-kept grave."
- Franklin Pangborn, a fussy, ubiquitous character actor of the period who played in several Fields films, most memorably as J. Pinkerton Snoopington in The Bank Dick.
- Elise Cavanna, whose on-screen interplay with Fields was compared (The Art of W.C. Fields 1967 by William K. Everson) to that between Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont
Fields's renewed popularity from his radio broadcasts with Bergen & McCarthy earned him a contract with Universal Pictures in 1939. His first feature for Universal, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, carried on the Fields-McCarthy rivalry. In 1940 Fields made My Little Chickadee, with Mae West, and The Bank Dick, perhaps his best-known film, in which he has the following exchange with bartender Shemp Howard:
- Fields: "Was I in here last night, and did I spend a $20 bill?"
- Shemp: "Yeah."
- Fields: "Oh boy, what a load that is off my mind... I thought I'd lost it!"
Fields often fought with studio producers, directors, and writers over the content of his films. He was determined to make a movie his way, with his own script and staging and his own choice of supporting players. Universal finally gave him the chance, and the resulting film, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, (1941) is a masterpiece of absurd humor in which Fields appeared as himself, "The Great Man". Universal's singing star Gloria Jean played opposite Fields, and his old cronies Leon Errol and Franklin Pangborn served as his comic foils. But the film Fields delivered was so surreal Universal recut and reshot parts of it and then quietly released both the film and Fields.
Sucker turned out to be his last starring film. By then he was much heavier and less mobile than he had been at the peak of his film career during 1934–1935, when he was reasonably fit and trim.
Fields completed a scene for the 20th Century Fox film Tales of Manhattan, (1942) in which he played an eccentric professor hired by Margaret Dumont to give a temperance lecture to a gathering of high society swells. This scene was cut from the film before release, supposedly due to running time. It was discovered in the vaults at Fox in the mid 1990s and was included in the video and DVD releases of the movie.
While Fields was inactive in films due to extended illness, he recorded a short speech for a radio broadcast. His familiar, snide drawl registered so well with listeners that he quickly became a popular guest on network radio shows. One of his funniest routines had him trading insults with Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy on The Chase and Sanborn Hour.
Fields would twit Charlie about his being made of wood:
- Fields: "Tell me, Charles, is it true your father was a gate-leg table?"
- McCarthy: "If it is, your father was under it!"
When Fields would refer to McCarthy as a "woodpecker's pin-up boy" or a "termite's flophouse," Charlie would fire back at Fields about his drinking:
- McCarthy: "Is it true, Mr. Fields, that when you stood on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, 43 cars waited for your nose to change to green?"
- Bergen: "Why, Bill, I thought you didn't like children."
- Fields: "Oh, not at all, Edgar, I love children. I can remember when, with my own little unsteady legs, I toddled from room to room."
- McCarthy: "When was that, last night?"
Thanks to radio, Fields reached an even wider audience than before, and he was soon in demand for films again.
Fields occasionally entertained guests at his home. Generally, Fields fraternized with other actors, directors, and writers who shared his fondness for good company and good liquor. John Barrymore, Gregory La Cava, and Gene Fowler were a few of his intimates. Anthony Quinn and his wife Katherine DeMille (daughter of Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille) were visiting Fields one afternoon when the Quinns' two-year-old son, Christopher, drowned in Fields’s lily pond. Fields was greatly distraught by this incident, and brooded about it for months.
In the 1994 Biography TV show, his 1941 co-star Gloria Jean described how she would visit his house from time to time, and they would talk. Gloria Jean found Fields to be kind and gentle in real life, and believed that Fields yearned for the kind of family he lacked when he was a child. The show also reported that Fields eventually reconciled with his long estranged wife and son, and enjoyed playing with his grandchildren.
With a presidential election looming in 1940, Fields toyed with the idea of lampooning political campaign speeches. He wrote to vice-presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace, intending to glean comedy material from Wallace’s speeches, but when Wallace responded with a warm, personal fan letter to Fields, the comedian decided against skewering Wallace. Instead, Fields wrote a book entitled Fields for President, humorous essays in the form of a campaign speech. Dodd, Mead and Company published it in 1940 but declined to reprint it at the time. It did not sell well, mostly because people were confused as to whether it was meant to be taken seriously. Dodd, Mead and Company reprinted it in 1971 when Fields was seen as an anti-establishment figure. The 1940 edition includes illustrations by Otto Soglow; the 1971 reprint is illustrated with photographs of Fields.
Fields's film career slowed down considerably in the 1940s. His illnesses confined him to brief guest-star appearances in other people's films. An extended sequence in 20th Century Fox's Tales of Manhattan (1942) was cut from the original release of the film; it was later reinstated for some home video releases. He performed his famous billiard-table routine one more time on camera, for Follow the Boys, an all-star entertainment revue for the Armed Forces. (Despite the charitable nature of the movie, Fields was paid $15,000 for his appearance, and he was never able to perform in person for the armed services.) In Song Of The Open Road (1944) Fields juggled for a few moments, remarking, "This used to be my racket". His last film, the musical revue Sensations of 1945, was released in late 1944.
He also guested occasionally on radio as late as 1946, often with Edgar Bergen, and just before his death that same year he recorded a spoken-word album, delivering his comic "Temperance Lecture" and "The Day I Drank A Glass Of Water" at Les Paul's studio, in which Paul had just installed his new multi-track recorder. The session was arranged by Paul's old Army pal Bill Morrow, a friend he had in common with Fields. Fields's vision had deteriorated so much that he read his lines from large-print cue cards. It was W. C. Fields's last performance.
Fields spent his last weeks in a hospital, where a friend stopped by for a visit and caught Fields reading the Bible. When asked why, Fields replied, "I'm checking for loopholes." Fields died in 1946 (from an alcohol-related stomach hemorrhage) on the holiday he claimed to despise: Christmas Day. As documented in W.C. Fields and Me (the memoir of Carlotta Monti, published in 1971 and made into a 1976 film of the same name starring Rod Steiger), he died at Las Encinas Sanatorium, Pasadena, California, a bungalow-type sanitarium where, as he lay in bed dying, his longtime and final love, Carlotta Monti, went outside and turned the hose onto the roof, so as to allow Fields to hear for one last time his favorite sound—the sound of falling rain. According to the documentary W.C. Fields Straight Up, his death occurred in this way: he winked and smiled at a nurse, put a finger to his lips, and died. Fields was 66, and had been a patient for 22 months. His funeral took place on January 2, 1947, in Glendale, CA.
Fields was cremated and his ashes interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. There have been stories that he wanted his grave marker to read either "On the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia", his home town, or "All in all, I would rather be in Philadelphia", both of which are similar to a line he used in My Little Chickadee: "I'd like to see Paris before I die...Philadelphia would do!" In the same film, he made a point of referencing "Philadelphia cream cheese"; whether he knew of the actual J. L. Kraft Foods product is unknown. Given his fondness for words, maybe he just liked the sound of his own home town's name. This rumor has also morphed into "I would rather be here than in Philadelphia". The anecdote that Fields often remarked, "Philadelphia, wonderful town, spent a week there one night" is unsubstantiated. It is also said that Fields wanted "I'd rather be in Philadelphia" on his gravestone because of the old vaudeville joke among comedians, "I would rather be dead than play Philadelphia". Whatever his actual wishes might have been, the interment marker for his ashes merely bears his stage name and the years of his birth and his death. The genesis of the line as originally phrased can be found in a 1925 article in Vanity Fair entitled "A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs." The mock-epitaph for Fields reads "Here Lies / W.C. Fields / I Would Rather Be Living in Philadelphia."
Unrealized film projects
W. C. Fields was the original choice for the title role in the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. One rumor was that he believed the role was too small. Another alleged that he was asking too much money: his asking price was $100,000, while MGM offered $75,000. However, his agent asserted that Fields rejected the role because he wanted to devote his time to writing You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.
Fields also figured in an Orson Welles project. Welles's bosses at RKO Radio Pictures, after losing money on Citizen Kane, urged Welles to choose as his next film a subject with more commercial appeal. Welles considered an adaptation of Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers which would have starred Fields and John Barrymore, but Fields's schedule would not permit it. The project was permanently shelved, and Welles went on to adapt The Magnificent Ambersons.
Influence and legacy
According to Woody Allen (in a New York Times interview from January 30, 2000), W. C. Fields is one of only six "genuine comic geniuses" he recognized as such in movie history, along with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Groucho and Harpo Marx, and Peter Sellers.
A W.C. Fields commemorative stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service on the occasion of the comedian's 100th birthday in January 1980.
Caricatures and imitations
Fields, with his bulbous red nose (partly as a result of rosacea, although his parents also had bulbous noses), rotund body and nasal, braying voice, has been imitated for decades in a wide variety of media. A few examples:
- The comic strip The Wizard of Id by Johnny Hart and Brant Parker features an attorney called "Larsen E. Pettifogger", an obvious parody of Fields, named in allusion to Fields's character Larson E. Whipsnade from You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.
- Big Chief Wahoo was a newspaper strip drawn by Elmer Woggon and written by Allen Saunders that was later reprinted in comic books like Famous Funnies. It featured a W.C. Fields-like carpetbagging con artist and snake oil salesman named J. Mortimer Gusto, (a.k.a. "the Great Gusto"). According to Saunders, Fields was flattered. The feature gradually evolved into Steve Roper and Mike Nomad.
- Frito-Lay's controversial Frito Bandito advertising mascot in the late 1960s was retired in favor of an animated Fields lookalike called "W.C. Fritos".
- In addition to the above Fritos ads, Fields was mimicked and caricatured in a great many animated cartoons and commercials. They ranged from classic Looney Tunes shorts like The Coo-Coo Nut Grove (1936), At Your Service, Madame (1936) and Little Blabbermouse (1940), to Walt Disney's Mickey's Polo Team (1936) and Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (1938). In the late '60s Warner Brothers again spoofed Fields's persona with their character Merlin the Magic Mouse, voiced by Larry Storch, and a TV ad for Cocoa Puffs cereal featured Sonny disguising himself as Fields, voiced by Chuck McCann.
- Cartoonist Al Hirschfeld has portrayed Fields in caricature many times, including the book cover illustrations for Drat!, A Flask of Fields and Godfrey Daniels! – all edited by Richard J. Anobile.
- The Firesign Theater's How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (Columbia CS-9884 — July 1969) includes a character "Bill" who speaks in fluent W.C. Field-ese.
- The TV show Gigglesnort Hotel featured a puppet character named "W. C. Cornfield", which was an obvious caricature of Fields.
- Fields was an easy target for impressionists and mimics. Ed McMahon aped Fields on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and Family Feud host/Match Game panelist Richard Dawson frequently did imitations of Fields. Master impressionist Rich Little often imitated Fields on his TV series The Kopykats, and used a Fields characterization for the Ebenezer Scrooge character in his 1978 HBO special Rich Little's Christmas Carol, a one-man presentation of A Christmas Carol.
- In Great Britain, comic Les Dawson's Fieldsian character Zebediah Twain was obviously an affectionate tribute. British comedian Benny Hill also mimicked Fields, reportedly one of his heroes, in sketches and musical numbers on The Benny Hill Show.
- Fields was also caricatured in the Belgian comic strip Lucky Luke by Morris and René Goscinny, in the album Western Circus and the French animated film La Ballade des Dalton as Dr. Aldous Smith.
- The character of Horatio K. Boomer on radio's Fibber McGee & Molly, voiced by Bill Thompson, was a vocal parody of Fields.
In other popular culture
- Actor Michael Dunn did a brief impression of Fields in the film No Way to Treat a Lady (1968). Rod Steiger later impersonated him at length in the big screen biography W.C. Fields and Me in 1976.
- Singer/songwriter duo Boyce & Hart included a song on their 1967 LP "Test Patterns" called "My Little Chickadee." The song features an impersonation of Fields in spoken interludes.
- Fields, whose popularity enjoyed a renaissance in the late 1960s, is featured on the cover of the 1967 Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
- The Firesign Theatre's 1968 album Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him includes a sketch satirizing the hippie counterculture called "W.C. Fields Forever." Eric Idle's Beatles spoof, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, features an album cover parody of Magical Mystery Tour in which the song Strawberry Fields Forever is renamed "W.C. Fields Forever."
- In the finale of the 1970s TV series Gangsters, writer Philip Martin appeared as "W.D. (White Devil) Fields", a ninja assassin who adopted the appearance and mannerisms of Fields in order to lull his opponents into a false sense of security. His first line in the series was "Birmingham, eh? On the whole I'd sooner be in Philadelphia." Martin was credited as "Larson E. Whipsnade". Fields also turns up as a wax figure brought to life by KAOS agents in a Get Smart episode titled House of Max, Part II, which first aired January 16, 1970.
- On Sesame Street muppet performer Jerry Nelson used an impression of Fields for the voice of the inept magician The Amazing Mumford.
- In the 1991 movie The Rocketeer, which was set in 1938, Bob Leeman played the part of W. C. Fields. In the 1982 ABC TV biopic Mae West, starring Ann Jillian, Fields was impersonated by comedy actor Chuck McCann.
- While recovering from an assassination attempt, President Ronald Reagan reportedly said, "All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia", which alluded to the site of the 1981 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament's Final Four games held at the same time as Reagan's hospitalization.
- "Filthy McNasty," the villainous bank robber from The Bank Dick, inspired jazz pianist Horace Silver's composition of the same name, introduced on his 1961 Blue Note LP Doin' the Thing: The Horace Silver Quintet at the Village Gate. According to Silver (quoted by Herb Wong in the liner notes for The Best of Horace Silver) the classic Fields film was playing on television while Silver was inspired to compose the tune.
Information for this filmography is derived from the book, W. C. Fields: A Life on Film, by Ronald J. Fields. All films are feature length except where noted.
Release date Title Role Director Notes 1915 (untitled film) Himself Ed Wynn Short film presented as part of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915; lost film 1915 September 19 Pool Sharks The pool shark Edwin Middleton One reel; story by W.C. Fields; extant 1915 October 3 His Lordship's Dilemma Remittance man William Haddock One reel; extant? (print with French title cards found in 2006) - claim requires additional verification for corroboration - only source now deceased and HIGHLY SUSPECT 1924 October 27 Janice Meredith A British sergeant E. Mason Hopper extant 1925 August 2 Sally of the Sawdust Professor Eustace P. McGargle D. W. Griffith extant 1925 December 7 That Royle Girl Daisy Royle's father D. W. Griffith lost film 1926 May 24 It's the Old Army Game Elmer Prettywillie A. Edward Sutherland Story by J.P. McEvoy and W.C. Fields; extant 1926 October 26 So's Your Old Man Samuel Bisbee Gregory La Cava extant 1927 January 31 The Potters Pa Potter Fred C. Newmeyer lost film 1927 August 20 Running Wild Elmer Finch Gregory La Cava extant 1927 December 17 Two Flaming Youths J. G. "Gabby" Gilfoil John S. Waters lost film 1928 March 3 Tillie's Punctured Romance The Ringmaster A. Edward Sutherland extant? - claim requires additional corroboration for verification - only known source of info. now deceased and HIGHLY SUSPECT 1928 May 7 Fools for Luck Richard Whitehead Charles F. Reisner extant? - only known source now deceased suggests that he viewed film - HIGHLY SUSPECT 1930 August 22 The Golf Specialist J. Effingham Bellwether Monte Brice Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited) 1931 December 26 Her Majesty, Love Bela Toerrek William Dieterle 1932 July 8 Million Dollar Legs President of Klopstokia Edward Cline 1932 December 2 If I Had a Million Rollo La Rue Norman Taurog 1932 December 9 The Dentist Himself Leslie Pearce Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited) 1933 March 3 The Fatal Glass of Beer Mr. Snavely Clyde Bruckman Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited) 1933 April 21 The Pharmacist Mr. Dilweg Arthur Ripley Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited) 1933 June 2 International House Professor Quail A. Edward Sutherland 1933 June 24 Hip Action Himself George Marshall One reel 1933 July 28 The Barber Shop Cornielius O'Hare Arthur Ripley Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited) 1933 September 8 Hollywood on Parade No. B-2 Himself Louis Lewyn One reel 1933 October 13 Tillie and Gus Augustus Q. Winterbottom Francis Martin Fields as contributing writer (uncredited) 1933 December 22 Alice in Wonderland Humpty Dumpty Norman McLeod 1934 February 9 Six of a Kind Sheriff "Honest John" Hoxley Leo McCarey 1934 April 6 You're Telling Me! Sam Bisbee Erle C. Kenton Fields as contributing writer (uncredited) 1934 April 27 Hollywood on Parade No. B-10 Himself Louis Lewyn One reel 1934 July 13 The Old Fashioned Way The Great (Marc Antony) McGonigle William Beaudine Story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields) 1934 October 19 Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch Mr. C. Ellsworth Stubbins Norman Taurog 1934 November 30 It's a Gift Harold Bissonette Norman McLeod Original story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields) 1935 March 22 Mississippi Commodore Orlando Jackson A. Edward Sutherland 1935 July 26 Man on the Flying Trapeze Ambrose Wolfinger Clyde Bruckman Story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields) 1935 December 13 David Copperfield Wilkins Micawber George Cukor 1936 June 19 Poppy Professor Eustace P. McGargle A. Edward Sutherland 1938 February 18 The Big Broadcast of 1938 T. Frothingill Bellows
S. B. Bellows
Mitchell Leisen 1939 February 17 You Can't Cheat an Honest Man Larson E. Whipsnade George Marshall Story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields) 1940 February 9 My Little Chickadee Cuthbert J. Twillie Edward Cline Bar scene written by W.C. Fields 1940 November 29 The Bank Dick Egbert Sousè Edward Cline Story by "Mahatma Kane Jeeves" (W.C. Fields) 1941 October 10 Never Give a Sucker an Even Break The Great Man Edward Cline Original story by "Otis Criblecoblis" (W.C. Fields) unreleased The Laziest Golfer Himself (unknown) Footage shot but never assembled 1942 October 30 Tales of Manhattan Himself Julien Duvivier Sequence with Fields cut from original release, restored for home video (VHS) 1944 May 5 Follow the Boys Himself A. Edward Sutherland 1944 June 21 Song of the Open Road Himself S. Sylvan Simon 1944 June 30 Sensations of 1945 Himself Andrew L. Stone
- W. C. Fields, Fields for President (1940, 1971) Dodd, Mead ISBN 0-396-06419-1. (Humorous essays about Fields's stance on marriage, politics, finance, etc.)
- Robert Lewis Taylor, W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes (1949) Doubleday & Co., (1967) New American Library ISBN 0-451-50653-7. (First book biography, with many firsthand quotes from friends and colleagues)
- Gene Fowler, Minutes of the Last Meeting (1954) Viking Press
- Eddie Cantor, As I Remember Them (1963) Duell, Sloan & Pearce
- Donald Deschner (ed.), The Films of W.C. Fields (1966, 2000) Citadel Press
- Corey Ford, "The One and Only W.C. Fields" from The Time of Laughter (1967) Little, Brown
- William K. Everson, The Art of W.C. Fields (1967) Random House ISBN 0-517-01232-4. (First book-length examination of the Fields films)
- Richard J. Anobile (ed.), Drat!: Being the Encapsulated View of Life by W. C. Fields in His Own Words (1968) World Publishing
- David Robinson, The Great Funnies: A History of Film Comedy (1969) E.P. Dutton
- Jan Kindler, "Elysian Fields" from Playboy (March 1969)
- Bosley Crowther, "W.C. Fields Comedy Festival" from New York Times Film Reviews, 1959–1968 (1970) Arno Press
- Andre Sennwald, capsule reviews from New York Times Film Reviews, 1932–1938 (1970) Arno Press
- Raymond Durgnat, "Suckers and Soaks" from The Crazy Mirror: Hollywood Comedy and the American Image (1970) Dell Publishing
- Andrew Bergman, "Some Anarcho-Nihilist Laff Riots" from We're in the Money: Depression America and Its Films (1971) New York University Press
- Otis Ferguson, "The Great McGonigle" from The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson (1971) Temple University Press
- Carlotta Monti (with Cy Rice), W.C. Fields and Me (1971) Prentice-Hall (basis of the 1976 film starring Rod Steiger)
- Richard J, Anobile (ed.), A Flask of Fields: Verbal and Visual Gems from the Films of W.C. Fields (1972) W.W. Norton
- Leonard Maltin, Selected Short Subjects (first published as The Great Movie Shorts, 1972) Crown Publishers, (revised 1983) Da Capo Press
- Ronald J. Fields (ed.), W.C. Fields by Himself: His Intended Autobiography with Hitherto Unpublished Letters, Notes, Scripts and Articles (1973) Prentice-Hall ISBN 0-13-944462-9.
- W. C. Fields (with Charles Grayson), The Bank Dick (1973) Simon & Schuster (the August 22, 1940 screenplay)
- W. C. Fields (with John T. Neville, et al.), Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (Rupert Hughes, et al.) Tillie and Gus (1973) Simon & Schuster (Continuity scripts derived from these films)
- Penelope Gilliatt, "To W.C. Fields, Dyspeptic Mumbler, Who Invented His Own Way Out" from Unholy Fools: Wits, Comics, Disturbers of the Peace (1973) Viking Press
- Gerald Mast, The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies (1973, 2nd ed. 1979) University of Chicago Press
- Donald W. McCaffrey, "The Latter-Day Falstaff" from The Golden Age of Sound Comedy (1973) A.S. Barnes
- Nicholas Yanni, W.C. Fields (1974) Pyramid Library
- Richard J. Anobile (ed.), Godfrey Daniels!: Verbal and Visual Gems from the Short Films of W. C. Fields (1975) Crown
- Walter Kerr, The Silent Clowns (1975) Alfred A. Knopf, (1990) Da Capo Press
- Stuart Byron and Elizabeth Weis (eds.), The National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy (1977) Grossman/Viking
- Leonard Maltin, The Great Movie Comedians (1978) Crown
- Will Fowler, The Second Handshake (1980) Lyle Stuart
- Louise Brooks, "The Other Face of W.C. Fields" from Lulu in Hollywood (1982) Alfred A. Knopf
- Ronald J. Fields, W.C. Fields: A Life on Film (1984) St. Martin's Press
- Wes D. Gehring, W.C. Fields: A Bio-Bibliography (1984) Greenwood Press
- Gerald Weales, Canned Goods as Caviar: American Film Comedy of the 1930s (1985) University of Chicago Press
- David T. Rocks, W.C. Fields: An Annotated Guide (1993) McFarland & Co.
- Wes D. Gehring, Groucho and W.C. Fields: Huckster Comedians (1994) University Press of Mississippi
- Simon Louvish, It's a Gift (1994) British Film Institute
- Simon Louvish, Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields (1999) Faber & Faber ISBN 0-393-04127-1. (New biography with new research)
- Ronald J. Fields with Shaun O'L. Higgins, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break: W.C. Fields on Business (2000) Prentice-Hall
- James Curtis, W.C. Fields: A Biography (2003) Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 0-375-40217-9. (The definitive, comprehensive biography, with many "apocryphal" stories from previous bios corrected)
- Scott MacGillivray and Jan MacGillivray, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven (2005) iUniverse ISBN 978-0-595-67454-1. (Authorized biography with recollections of Fields at work)
- Wes D. Gehring, Film Clowns of the Depression (2007) McFarland & Co.
- Gregory William Mank (et al.), Hollywood's Hellfire Club (2007) Feral House
- ^ "Conflicts over the true facts of W.C. Fields' life begin at the moment he was born. His original biographer, Taylor, even got this wrong, dating his birth at 9 April 1879, which would have made him an authentic bastard, as his parents were only married on 18 May of the same year. According to family lore, the Great Man was born on 29 January 1880". Louvish, Simon Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields. Faber & Faber, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04127-1 p. 28.
- ^ Obituary Variety, January 1, 1947, page 46.
- ^ a b c Simon Louvish, Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields, 1997.
- ^ Muster roll of 72nd PA, which did not fight at Lookout Mountain! A photo of James in a Civil War period uniform, c. 1900, shows him missing his right index finger. Reproduced p. 29, Louvish.
- ^ 1880 census, Philadelphia, p. 129A; Louvish, ibid.
- ^ "W. C. Fields' Widow Wins. Entitled to Half $771,000, Though Long Estranged, Judge Rules.". New York Times. July 8, 1949, Friday.
- ^ Vincent, Canby (February 19, 1966, Saturday). "Son of W. C. Fields Toasts Him in Tea. Comic's Namesake, Here for Festival, Is a Teetotaler.". New York Times. "William Claude Fields, Jr., the only child of the man who once said that anybody who hates children cannot be all bad, sat somewhat uncomfortably late yesterday afternoon in the eighth-floor lounge at the Gallery of Modern Art, sipping a cup of tea, a beverage his father might have chosen only in extremis."
- ^ Jordan, S. C. (2008). Hollywood's original rat pack The bards of Bundy Drive. Lanham, Maryland [u.a.]: Scarecrow Press. p. 151. ISBN 0-8108-6032-5
- ^ Claude W. Dukenfield, age 30 at 3920 North Marshall Street, Philadelphia, age 30, an actor, in the tenth year of his first marriage. His wife is not present in the household.
- ^ Gehring, W. D. (1994). Groucho and W.C. Fields Huckster comedians. Jackson, Miss: University Press of Mississippi. p. 70. ISBN 0-585-19049-6
- ^ Silvers, Phil (1973). This Laugh is on Me.
- ^ W.C. Fields Radio recordings
- ^ Robert Lewis Taylor (1967). W. C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes. New York: New American Library. pp. 235. ISBN 0451506537.
- ^ "W.C. Fields, 66, Dies. Famed as Comedian. Mimicry Star of the Films Since 1924 Got Start as a $5-a-Week Juggler. Rarely Followed Script. Raspy Remarks and 'Know-It-All' Perspective Made Him Nation-Wide Character.". New York Times. December 26, 1946, Thursday. "Pasadena, California, December 25, 1946 (Associated Press) W.C. Fields, the comedian whose deadpan gestures, raspy remarks and "never give a sucker an even break" characterizations made him a showman beloved the nation over, died today at the age of 66."
- ^ W.C. Fields: Straight Up at the Internet Movie Database
- ^ Lines 1 and 3 are in small caps in the original) [The article is reprinted in VANITY FAIR: Selections from America's Most Memorable Magazine, edited by Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee, pages 102–103. Viking Press, 1960
- ^ "Here a Comic Genius, There a Comic Genius," N.Y. Times Arts section: 1/30/2000
- ^ Bob Leeman at the Internet Movie Database
- W. C. Fields at the Internet Movie Database
- W. C. Fields at the Internet Broadway Database
- Official site
- Official fan club
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