Lew Fields

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Lew Fields ca. 1909

Lew Fields (January 1867 - July 20, 1941, Beverly Hills, California), born as Moses Schoenfeld, was an American actor, comedian, vaudeville star, theatre manager and producer.

Biography[edit]

Fields was half of the great comic duo Weber and Fields, the other half being Joe Weber. Fields and Weber started performing in museums, circuses and variety houses in New York City. The young men had a "Dutch act" in which both portrayed German immigrants. Such "dialect acts" (German dialects, Irish dialects, Jewish/Yiddish dialects, Blackface and Black/African American vernacular English) were extremely common at the time, the comedy coming from the actors' mangling of the English language and dropping of malapropisms as they undertook life in America.

In the case of Weber and Fields (or "Mike and Meyer" as their characters were known) and many of the other acts of this genre, this often involved stereotyping by dress and behavior, as well as comedic and often sympathetic portrayals of the characters' attempts to fit into American society. "Crafty schemes" of "making it big" in America, as well as the attempts of mere survival of immigrant poverty in America, were written into the script of these acts. A typical "Mike and Meyer" routine involved Mike, the short and clever one, unsuccessfully trying to coach Meyer, the tall and simple one, in a scheme to get them a free lunch at a working-class saloon.[1]

Weber and Fields in 1899.

The two toured successfully for many years, becoming one of the most popular and profitable acts in vaudeville. In 1896, the partners opened the Weber and Fields Music Hall, where they produced very successful burlesques of popular Broadway shows. In the music hall's casts were some of the greatest performers and comics on the American stage at that time, including Lillian Russell, Ross and Fenton, Fay Templeton, and DeWolf Hopper. Some of their routines were Pousse Cafe, Hurly Burly, Whirl-I-Gig, Fiddle-Dee-Dee, Hoity-Toity, Twirly Whirly, and Whoop-de-Doo.[1]

The duo separated in 1904, and Weber took over operations at the music hall. Fields also went on to produce many musicals. When Fields starred in the 1911 stage comedy, The Hen-Pecks, one of the supporting comedians in the cast was Vernon Castle, who went on to become a famous ballroom dancer. In 1921, Fred Allen and Nora Bayes toured with Fields. During the tour the orchestra was conducted by 19-year-old Richard Rodgers. Video on YouTube

Lew Fields in The Girl Behind the Counter, a musical farce (1907-08).

In 1923, Weber and Fields reunited for a short film made by Lee DeForest in the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process, featuring a recreation of their famous pool hall routine. This film premiered at the Rivoli Theater in New York City on 15 April 1923. They also reunited for the 27 December 1932 inaugural show at Radio City Music Hall, which proved to be the last stage appearance of the two as a team. In the RKO Radio Pictures film, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), Fields appeared as himself, re-enacting a slapstick comedy scene from The Hen-Pecks. They gave a cameo performance performing their "casino" routine in the 1940 movie Lillian Russell.

Personal life[edit]

Fields was the father of Dorothy, Herbert and Joseph, all of whom enjoyed theatrical careers of their own.

Legacy[edit]

The backstage hostility in Neil Simon's play and film The Sunshine Boys is reportedly based on Weber and Fields.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Eaton, Walter Prichard (1910). The American Stage of Today. New York, NY: P.F. Collier & Son. 

External links[edit]