W.C. Fields

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W. C. Fields (William Claude Duckenfield), (1879-1946), U.S. comedian, vaudeville performer, actor, and screenwriter, and among the most proficient jugglers of his day, was extraordinarily successful in his profession. During his more modest vaudeville career, it finally occurred to Fields that he could make a great deal more money simply by using the character traits he already possessed. So it happened that Fields launched a new career as a comic, portraying a character who drank too much, was a confirmed cynic, detested children, and generally was against "motherhood, fatherhood, and brotherhood."

If anything, his character was a moderated version of himself, as Fields had an outlook so peculiar that it would have appeared wholly contrived on the screen, For instance, as a result of having been stranded a number of times in remote parts of the country when his funds ran low, in his more prosperous years Fields took to stashing sums of money in numerous scattered banks under assumed names--much to the consternation of his heirs after his death.

Prosper he did, however. Fields wrote almost all his own material and maintained such control that he wrote, directed, and starred in some of his major pictures--all at the same time. Even when someone else served as director, since Fields improvised extensively on the set he was in effective charge anyway, as no one knew what he was going to do next. It's difficult to imagine a single performer having that much latitude with a large budget these days. Eventually his stature grew to the point that he could demand both equal billing and equal time on screen with Mae West, a major star of the day, and get his way.

Although the story sounds apocryphal, no less an authority than Bartlett's tells about Fields on his deathbed. A lifelong agnostic on screen and off, Fields was observed by several visitors reading a bible with fairly serious concentration.

When questioned about his actions, Fields replied simply,

"I'm looking for loopholes ..."

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Fields had a successful career in Vaudeville before he learned that much more money could be made on the screen portraying a character possessed of the same curmudgeonly traits he personally had anyway. Always a professional performer and rarely shaken, the story is told of one occasion when someone got the better of Fields (who never forgot or forgave the incident).

The man who did it was the inimitable Joe Frisco--a fellow much more famous in his own time than today. The night the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 opened in New York, Frisco did his own number and then was supposed to introduce Fields. The latter waited in the wings ready to make his entrance on his usual burst of applause.

Instead of introducing Fields, however, Frisco pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and said in an excited voice,

"I have just learned that Charles Lindbergh is in the audience."

This was just after Lindbergh had flown solo nonstop from New York to Paris and the crowd went wild. After several minutes of pandemonium, Frisco held up his hand for quiet and said,

"I guess I made a mistake. It must be somebody who looked like him. Anyhow, the next act will be W.C. Fields ..."

----------------A Final Thought ...

"Mayor, you're OK. I voted for you last election ... five times."

- W. C. Fields (1879-1946), US comedian, actor, and screenwriter; speaking in character on the screen