W. C. Fields

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W. C. Fields
W. C. Fields (ca. 1940).jpg
W. C. Fields, 1940
Born William Claude Dukenfield
(1880-01-29)January 29, 1880
Darby, Pennsylvania, US
Died December 25, 1946(1946-12-25) (aged 66)
Pasadena, California, US
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
Other names Charles Bogle
Otis Criblecobble
Mahatma Kane Jeeves
"Uncle Claude"
Occupation Actor, comedian, juggler, writer
Years active 1902–1946
Spouse(s) Harriet Hughes (m. 1900–46) (his death) 1 child
Partner(s) Bessie Poole (girlfriend) 1 child
Carlotta Monti (girlfriend)
Children William Claude Fields, Jr.
William Morris

William Claude Dukenfield (January 29, 1880[1] – December 25, 1946), better known as W. C. Fields, was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer.[2] Fields's comic persona was a misanthropic and hard-drinking egotist, who remained a sympathetic character despite his snarling contempt for dogs and children.

The characterization he portrayed in films and on radio was so strong it was generally identified with Fields himself. It was maintained by the publicity departments at Fields's studios (Paramount and Universal) and was further established by Robert Lewis Taylor's biography, W.C. Fields, His Follies and Fortunes (1949). 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 was shown that Fields was married (and subsequently estranged from his wife), and financially supported their son and loved his grandchildren.

Early years[edit]

Fields was born William Claude Dukenfield in Darby, Pennsylvania, the oldest child of a working-class family. His father, James Lydon Dukenfield (1840–1913), was from an English family that emigrated to America from Sheffield, England in 1854.[3][4] James Dukenfield served in Company M of the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War and was wounded in 1863.[5] Fields's mother, Kate Spangler Felton (1854–1925), was a Protestant of British ancestry.[6][7] 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.[8][7]

Claude Dukenfield (as he was known) had a contentious and violent relationship with his short-tempered father, and ran away from home repeatedly, beginning at the age of nine.[9] At age twelve he worked with his father selling produce from a wagon, until the two had a fight that resulted in Fields running away again.[10] In 1893 he worked briefly at the Strawbridge and Clothier department store,[11] and in an oyster house.[12] His education was sporadic, and did not progress beyond grade school.[13]

Fields embellished stories of his youth,[14] but his home life seems to have been a reasonably happy one. He had already discovered in himself a facility for juggling, and spent substantial time perfecting his juggling after witnessing a performance at a local theater, practicing until his fingers bled.[12] At age 17, he was living with his family and performing a juggling act at church and theater shows.[15]

Entry into vaudeville[edit]

Inspired by the success of the "Original Tramp Juggler" James Edward Harrigan, Fields adopted a similar costume of scruffy beard and shabby tuxedo and entered vaudeville as a genteel "tramp juggler" in 1898, using the name W. C. Fields.[16] His family supported his ambitions for the stage and saw him off on the train for his first stage tour. To conceal a stutter, Fields did not speak onstage.[17] In 1900, seeking to distinguish himself from the many "tramp" acts in vaudeville, he changed his costume and makeup, and began touring as "The Eccentric Juggler".[18] He included amusing asides and increasing amounts of comedy into his act, and became a headliner in North America and Europe. By the early 1900s, while touring, he was regularly called the world's greatest juggler.[19]

He worked or manipulated cigar boxes, hats, and other objects in what appears to have been a unique and fresh act, parts of which are reproduced in some of his films, notably in The Old Fashioned Way (1934). Fields confined his act to pantomime so he could play international theaters. He toured several continents as a world-class juggler and an international star.


W.C. Fields

Fields married a fellow vaudevillian, chorus girl Harriet "Hattie" Hughes, on April 8, 1900.[20] She became part of Fields's stage act, appearing as his assistant, whom he would entertainingly blame whenever he missed a trick.[21] Hattie was well educated, and tutored Fields in reading and writing during their travels.[22] Fields became an enthusiastic reader, and habitually traveled with a trunkful of books that included grammar books, translations of Homer and Ovid, and works by authors ranging from Shakespeare to Dickens to Twain.[23]

The couple's son, William Claude Fields, Jr., was born on July 28, 1904.[24] Although Fields was an avowed atheist—who, according to James Curtis, "regarded all religions with the suspicion of a seasoned con man"—he yielded to Hattie's wish to have their son baptized.[25]

By 1907, however, he and Hattie separated; she had been pressing him to stop touring and settle into a respectable trade, while he was unwilling to give up show business.[26] They never divorced. Until his death, Fields continued to correspond with Hattie and voluntarily sent her a weekly stipend.[27]

In 1904, his father visited him for two months in England when Fields was performing there in music halls.[28] Fields enabled his father to retire, purchased him a summer home, and encouraged his parents and siblings to learn to read and write, so they could communicate with him by letter.[29]


In America, Fields found he could get more laughs by adding muttered patter and sarcastic asides to his routines. (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.)

In 1905, he made his Broadway debut in a musical comedy, The Ham Tree. His role in the show required him to deliver lines of dialogue, which he had never before done onstage.[30] He later said, "I wanted to become a real comedian, and there I was, ticketed and pigeonholed as merely a comedy juggler."[31] In 1913 he performed on a bill with Sarah Bernhardt (who regarded Fields as "an artiste [who] could not fail to please the best class of audience") first at the New York Palace, and then in England in a royal performance for the king and queen.[32] He continued touring in vaudeville until 1915.

Beginning in 1915, he appeared on Broadway in Florenz Ziegfeld's Ziegfeld Follies revue.[33] Therein, he delighted audiences with a wild billiards 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, in part, in some of his films, notably in Six of a Kind [1934].) The act was a success, and Fields starred in the Follies from 1916 to 1922, not as a juggler but as a comedian in ensemble sketches.

His stage costume from 1915 onwards featured a top hat, cut-away coat and collar, and a cane—an appearance remarkably similar to the cartoon character Ally Sloper. Fields fancied himself a cartoonist in the early 1900s while he was traveling in Europe, and it is speculated[who?] that Ally Sloper may have been the inspiration for his costume. The Sloper character may in turn have been inspired by Dickens' Mr Micawber, whom Fields later played on film.[34]

While performing in New York City at the Amsterdam Theater, Fields met Bessie Poole, an established Ziegfeld Follies performer whose beauty and quick wit attracted him, and they began a relationship. With her he had another son, named William Rexford Fields Morris (born August 15, 1917).[35] Neither Fields nor Poole wanted to abandon touring to raise the child, who was placed in foster care with a childless couple of Bessie's acquaintance.[36] Fields's relationship with Poole lasted until 1926. In 1927, he made a negotiated payment to her of $20,000 upon her signing an affidavit declaring that "W. C. Fields is NOT the father of my child".[37] Poole died of complications of alcoholism in October 1928,[38] and Fields contributed to her son's support until he was 19 years of age.[39]

In addition to starring in multiple editions of the Follies, Fields starred in the Broadway musical comedy Poppy (1923), wherein he perfected his persona as a colorful small-time con man.


Silent era[edit]

Fields starred in two short comedies, Pool Sharks and His Lordship's Dilemma, filmed in New York in 1915.[40] His stage commitments prevented him from doing more movie work until 1924, when he played a supporting role in Janice Meredith, a Revolutionary War romance.[41] He reprised his Poppy (1923) role in a silent-film adaptation, retitled Sally of the Sawdust (1925) and directed by D. W. Griffith, after which he starred in It's the Old Army Game (1926), which featured his friend Louise Brooks, later a screen legend for her role in G. W. Pabst's Pandora's Box (1929) in Germany. Fields's 1926 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 clip-on mustache in all of his silent films, discarding it after his first sound feature film, Her Majesty Love (1931), his only Warner Brothers production.

At Paramount[edit]

Fields made four short subjects for comedy pioneer Mack Sennett in 1932 and 1933, distributed through Paramount Pictures. The first of these, The Dentist, is unusual in that Fields portrays an entirely unsympathetic character who cheats at golf, assaults his caddy, and treats his patients with unbridled callousness. Film historian William K. Everson says that the cruelty of this comedy made it "hardly less funny", but that "Fields must have known that The Dentist presented a serious flaw for a comedy image that was intended to endure", and showed a somewhat warmer persona in his subsequent Sennet shorts.[42]

During this period, Paramount began featuring Fields in full-length comedies, beginning with Million Dollar Legs in 1932. In that year he was also featured in a sequence in the anthology film If I Had a Million. 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.[43]

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 a phrase an aristocrat might use when about to leave the house: "My hat, my cane, Jeeves".[44] 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.[45]

Although lacking formal education, he was well read and a lifelong admirer of author Charles Dickens, whose characters' unusual names inspired Fields to collect odd names he encountered in his travels, to be used for his characters.[46] Some examples are:

  • "The Great McGonigle" (The Old-Fashioned Way);
  • "Ambrose Wolfinger" [pointing toward "Wolf-whistling"] (Man on the Flying Trapeze);
  • "Larson E. [read "Larceny"] Whipsnade" (You Can't Cheat an Honest Man), Whipsnade being the name of a dog track Fields had seen outside London;[47]
  • "Egbert Sousé" [pronounced 'soo-ZAY', but pointing toward "souse", a synonym for a drunk] (The Bank Dick).

In several of his films, he played hustlers, carnival barkers, and card sharps, spinning yarns and distracting his marks. In others, he cast himself as a victim: a bumbling everyman husband and father whose family does not appreciate him.[48] 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 salesmen. That film, like You're Telling Me! and Man on the Flying Trapeze, ended happily with a windfall profit that restored his standing in his screen families.

In 1937, in an article in Motion Picture magazine, Fields analyzed the characters he played:

You've heard the old legend that it's the little put-upon guy who gets the laughs, but I'm the most belligerent guy on the screen. I'm going to kill everybody. But, at the same time, I'm afraid of everybody—just a great big frightened bully .... I was the first comic in world history, so they told me, to pick fights with children. I booted Baby LeRoy ... then, in another picture, I kicked a little dog .... But I got sympathy both times. People didn't know what the unmanageable baby might do to get even, and they thought the dog might bite me.[49]

Fields often reproduced elements of his own family life in his films. By the time he entered motion pictures, his relationship with his estranged wife had become acrimonious, and he was resentful that he could not have a relationship with his son Claude, who he believed had turned against him under Hattie's influence.[50] James Curtis says of Man on the Flying Trapeze that the "disapproving mother-in-law, Mrs. Neselrode, was clearly patterned after his wife, Hattie, and the unemployable mama's boy played by [Grady] Sutton was deliberately named Claude. Fields hadn't laid eyes on his family in nearly twenty years, and yet the painfull memories lingered."[51]

He achieved a career ambition 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.

Supporting players[edit]

Fields had a small cadre of supporting players that he employed in several films:

  • Elise Cavanna, whose onscreen interplay with Fields was compared (by William K. Everson) to that between Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont[52]
  • Jan Duggan, an old-maid character (actually about Fields's age).[53] It was of her character that Fields said in The Old Fashioned Way, "She's all dressed up like a well-dressed grave."
  • Kathleen Howard, as a nagging wife or antagonist
  • Baby LeRoy, as a preschool child fond of playing pranks on Fields's characters
  • Franklin Pangborn, a fussy, ubiquitous character actor who played in several Fields films, most memorably as J. Pinkerton Snoopington in The Bank Dick
  • Alison Skipworth, as his wife (although 16 years his senior), usually in a supportive role rather than the stereotypical nag
  • Grady Sutton, typically a country bumpkin type, as a foil or an antagonist to Fields's character
  • Bill Wolfe, as a gaunt-looking character, usually a Fields foil
  • Tammany Young, as a dim-witted, unintentionally harmful assistant, who appeared in seven Fields films until his sudden death from heart failure in 1936

Personal life[edit]

Fields lived with Carlotta Monti (1907–1993) after they met in 1932, beginning a relationship that lasted until his death in 1946. Monti had small roles in two of Fields's 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 was listed in the 1940 census as single and living at 2015 DeMille Drive (Cecil B. DeMille lived at 2000, the only other address on the street).

In a testimonial dinner for Fields in 1939, the humorist Leo Rosten remarked of the comedian that "any man who hates dogs and babies can't be all bad".[54] The line, which Bartlett's Familiar Quotations later erroneously attributed to Fields himself, became famous, and reinforced the popular perception that Fields hated children and dogs. In reality, Fields was somewhat indifferent to dogs, but occasionally owned one.[55] He was fond of entertaining the children of friends who visited him, and doted on his first grandchild, Bill Fields III, born in 1943.[56] He sent encouraging advice to all of the letters he received from boys who—inspired by his juggling performance in The Old Fashioned Way—expressed an interest in learning to juggle.[57]

Fields and alcohol[edit]

Fields's screen character often expressed a fondness for alcohol, a prominent component of the Fields legend. Fields never drank in his early career as a juggler, because he did not want to impair his functions while performing. Eventually, the loneliness of constant travel prompted him to keep liquor in his dressing room as an inducement for fellow performers to socialize with him on the road. Only after he became a Follies star and abandoned juggling did Fields begin drinking regularly.[58] His role in Paramount Pictures' International House (1933), as an aviator with an unquenchable taste for beer, did much to establish Fields's popular reputation as a prodigious drinker.[59] Studio publicists promoted this image, as did Fields himself in press interviews.[60] On movie sets Fields kept a vacuum flask of mixed martinis, which he euphemistically referred to as his "pineapple juice". During the filming of Tales of Manhattan, a prankster switched the contents of the flask with pineapple juice. Upon discovery, Fields was heard to yell, "Who put pineapple juice in my pineapple juice?"[61]

Fields expressed his fondness for alcohol 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 refused to drink water "because fish fuck in it" is unsubstantiated.[62]

Illness and career sideline[edit]

In 1936, Fields's heavy drinking precipitated a significant decline in his health. By the following year he recovered sufficiently to make one last film for Paramount, The Big Broadcast of 1938, but his troublesome behavior discouraged other producers from hiring him. In 1938 he was chronically ill, and suffering from delirium tremens.[63]

Physically unable to work in films, Fields was off the screen for more than a year. During his absence he recorded a brief 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.[64] Although his radio work was not as demanding as motion-picture production, Fields insisted on his established movie-star salary of $5000 per week. He joined ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy on The Chase and Sanborn Hour for weekly insult-comedy routines.

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."[65]
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?"

Return to films[edit]

At Universal[edit]

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 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 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 cronies Leon Errol and Franklin Pangborn served as his comic foils. But the film Fields delivered was so surreal that Universal recut and reshot parts of it, then quietly released both the film and Fields.

Sucker was Fields's last starring film. He 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, however, supposedly due to running time. It was found in the vaults at Fox in the mid-1990s and was included in the video and DVD releases of the movie. The scene features an Italian clothier played by Phil Silvers and later a temperance meeting with society people at the home of a rich woman, Margaret Dumont, in which Fields finds that the punch has been spiked, resulting in a room full of drunken guests and a very happy Fields.

Final years[edit]

Fields often fraternized at his home with actors, directors, and writers who shared his fondness for good company and good liquor. John Barrymore, Gene Fowler, and Gregory La Cava were a few of his intimates. In 1941, while Fields was out of town, Christopher, the two-year-old son of neighbors Anthony Quinn and his wife Katherine DeMille, drowned in his lily pond, to his considerable distress.[66]

Fields had a substantial library in his home. Although a staunch atheist — or perhaps because of it — he studied theology and owned several volumes on the subject.[67] According to a popular story (possibly apocryphal, according to biographer James Curtis), Fields once told someone who caught him reading a Bible that he was "looking for loopholes".[67]

In a 1994 episode of the Biography television series, Fields's 1941 co-star Gloria Jean recalled her conversations with Fields at his home. She described him as kind and gentle in personal interactions, and believed he yearned for the family environment he never experienced as a child. The show reported that Fields eventually reconciled with his estranged wife and son, and enjoyed playing with his grandchildren.[68]

During the 1940 presidential campaign, Fields toyed with the idea of lampooning campaign speeches. He wrote to vice-presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace, but when Wallace responded with a warm, personal fan letter, the comedian decided against skewering him. Instead, Fields wrote a book entitled Fields for President, consisting of humorous essays in the form of a campaign speech. Dodd, Mead and Company published it in 1940, with illustrations by Otto Soglow.[69] The book sold poorly, largely because people didn't know whether it should be taken seriously.[citation needed] In 1971, when Fields was seen as an anti-establishment figure, Dodd, Mead issued a reprint, illustrated with photographs of Fields.

Fields's film career slowed 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 and later reinstated for some home video releases.[70] He performed his famous billiard table routine one more time 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; 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."[71] His last film, the musical revue Sensations of 1945, was released in late 1944.

He guested occasionally on radio as late as 1946, often with Edgar Bergen. Shortly before his death that year, Fields recorded a spoken-word album, including his "Temperance Lecture" and "The Day I Drank a Glass of Water", at Les Paul's studio, where Paul had installed his new multi-track recorder. The session was arranged by Paul's old Army pal Bill Morrow, one of Fields's radio writers. Fields's vision had deteriorated to the point that he read his lines from large-print cue cards.[citation needed] It was Fields's last performance.


Fields died in 1946, from an alcohol-related stomach hemorrhage, on the holiday he claimed to despise: Christmas Day.[72] He died at Las Encinas Sanatorium, Pasadena, California, a bungalow-type sanitarium. According to Carlotta Monti's memoir published in 1971, as he lay in bed dying, she went outside and turned the hose onto the roof, to allow Fields to hear for one last time his favorite sound—falling rain. According to the documentary W.C. Fields Straight Up,[73] his death occurred in this way: he winked and smiled at a nurse, put a finger to his lips, and died. Fields's biographer James Curtis says this story is unlikely, and is uncorroborated by the obituary in the Pasadena Star-News and its sources in the hospital.[74] Fields was 66, and had been a patient for 22 months. His funeral took place on January 2, 1947, in Glendale, California.[75]

Fields's will, written in 1943, directed that he be cremated immediately upon death, but this order was delayed when Hattie and Claude Fields objected on religious grounds.[74] After litigation concerning this and other provisions of the will, Fields was cremated on June 2, 1949,[76] and his ashes interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale.


There have been stories that Fields' grave marker reads "I'd rather be in Philadelphia", a line similar to one he used in My Little Chickadee when a mob that is preparing to hang him ask him if he has any last words: "I'd like to see Paris before I die...Philadelphia will do!"[77] In life, Fields was known for disparaging his native city, Philadelphia. In a 1925 Vanity Fair article, "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."[78]

In reality, the interment marker for Fields's ashes merely bears his stage name and the years of his birth and death.[77]

Contested bequest[edit]

In a provision of his will that was contested by his wife Hattie and his son Claude, W. C. Fields—an atheist to the end—left a portion of his estate to fund the education of orphans in a school "where no religion of any sort is preached".[79][80]

Unrealized film projects[edit]

W. C. Fields was (with Ed Wynn) one of the two original choices for the title role in the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. Fields was enthusiastic about the role, but ultimately withdrew his name from consideration because he wanted to devote his time to writing You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.[81]

Fields 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' The Pickwick Papers which would have starred Fields and John Barrymore, but Fields's schedule would not permit it. The project was shelved, and Welles went on to adapt The Magnificent Ambersons.[citation needed]

During the early planning for his film It's a Wonderful Life, director Frank Capra considered Fields for the role of Uncle Billy, which eventually went to Thomas Mitchell.[82]

Influence and legacy[edit]

A best-selling biography of Fields published three years after his death, W.C. Fields, His Follies and Fortunes by Robert Lewis Taylor, was instrumental in popularizing the idea that Fields's real-life character matched his screen persona.[83]

According to Woody Allen (in a New York Times interview from January 30, 2000), W. C. Fields is one of six "genuine comic geniuses" he recognized as such in movie history, along with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Groucho and Harpo Marx, and Peter Sellers.[84]

The United States Postal Service issued a W.C. Fields commemorative stamp on the comedian's 100th birthday, in January 1980.[85]

Caricatures and imitations[edit]

  • A caricature of Fields is in Lucky Luke: The Ballad of the Daltons.[86]
  • Cartoonist Al Hirschfeld 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.[citation needed]
  • The TV show Gigglesnort Hotel featured a puppet character named "W. C. Cornfield" who resembled Fields in appearance and voice.[87]
  • Master impressionist Rich Little often imitated Fields on his TV series The Kopycats, and he used a Fields characterization for the Ebenezer Scrooge character in his HBO special Rich Little's Christmas Carol (1978), a one-man presentation of A Christmas Carol.
  • A 1960s Canadian cartoon series for kids Tales of the Wizard of Oz featured a Wizard with a voice imitation of Fields, a nod to the real-life choice of Fields to play the Wizard in the 1939 film classic opposite Judy Garland. Fields either wanted too much money, or was too ill to insure for the role, but the character as eventually portrayed by Frank Morgan, was remarkably similar to the con man Fields played in several films.
  • Several cartoons of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s caricatured Fields, including Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Another cartoon, "Batty Baseball" directed by Tex Avery, features a game played at "W.C. Field". One episode of The Flintstones featured a tramp who gets old clothes belonging to Fred from his wife Wilma, then when Fred attempts to take back a coat, is trounced with the tramp's cane. The tramp has Fields's voice and persona.
  • The Wizard of Id comic strip contains a shady lawyer character, a Fields caricature named "Larsen E. Pettifogger".
  • In the second series of the TV drama Gangsters a character named the White Devil is introduced, who styles himself W.D. Fields affecting the vocal mannerisms and appearance of W.C. Fields to confuse and confound his enemies. Played by series writer Philip Martin, he himself is credited in the final episode as "Larson E. Whipsnade" after Fields's character in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.
  • Actor Bob Leeman portrayed Fields in the 1991 movie The Rocketeer.


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
September 19, 1915 Pool Sharks The pool shark Edwin Middleton One reel; story by W.C. Fields; extant
October 3, 1915 His Lordship's Dilemma Remittance man William Haddock One reel; extant? (print with French title cards found in 2006)[citation needed]
October 27, 1924 Janice Meredith A British sergeant E. Mason Hopper extant
August 2, 1925 Sally of the Sawdust Professor Eustace P. McGargle D. W. Griffith extant
October 7, 1925 That Royle Girl Daisy Royle's father D. W. Griffith lost film
May 24, 1926 It's the Old Army Game Elmer Prettywillie A. Edward Sutherland Story by J.P. McEvoy and W.C. Fields; extant
October 26, 1926 So's Your Old Man Samuel Bisbee Gregory La Cava extant
January 31, 1927 The Potters Pa Potter Fred C. Newmeyer lost film
August 20, 1927 Running Wild Elmer Finch Gregory La Cava extant
October 17, 1927 Two Flaming Youths J. G. "Gabby" Gilfoil John S. Waters lost film
March 3, 1928 Tillie's Punctured Romance The Ringmaster A. Edward Sutherland extant?
May 7, 1928 Fools for Luck Richard Whitehead Charles F. Reisner extant?
August 22, 1930 The Golf Specialist J. Effingham Bellwether Monte Brice Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited)
October 26, 1931 Her Majesty, Love Bela Toerrek William Dieterle
July 8, 1932 Million Dollar Legs President of Klopstokia Edward Cline
October 2, 1932 If I Had a Million Rollo La Rue Norman Taurog
October 9, 1932 The Dentist Himself Leslie Pearce Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited)
March 3, 1933 The Fatal Glass of Beer Mr. Snavely Clyde Bruckman Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited)
April 21, 1933 The Pharmacist Mr. Dilweg Arthur Ripley Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited)
June 2, 1933 International House Professor Quail A. Edward Sutherland
June 24, 1933 Hip Action Himself George Marshall One reel
July 28, 1933 The Barber Shop Cornelius O'Hare Arthur Ripley Two reels; story by W.C. Fields (uncredited)
September 8, 1933 Hollywood on Parade No. B-2 Himself Louis Lewyn One reel
October 13, 1933 Tillie and Gus Augustus Q. Winterbottom Francis Martin Fields as contributing writer (uncredited)
October 22, 1933 Alice in Wonderland Humpty Dumpty Norman McLeod
February 9, 1934 Six of a Kind Sheriff "Honest John" Hoxley Leo McCarey
April 6, 1934 You're Telling Me! Sam Bisbee Erle C. Kenton Fields as contributing writer (uncredited)
April 27, 1934 Hollywood on Parade No. B-10 Himself Louis Lewyn One reel
July 13, 1934 The Old Fashioned Way The Great (Marc Antony) McGonigle William Beaudine Story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields)
October 19, 1934 Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch Mr. C. Ellsworth Stubbins Norman Taurog
November 30, 1934 It's a Gift Harold Bissonette Norman McLeod Original story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields)
March 22, 1935 Mississippi Commodore Orlando Jackson A. Edward Sutherland
July 26, 1935 Man on the Flying Trapeze Ambrose Wolfinger Clyde Bruckman Story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields)
October 13, 1935 David Copperfield Wilkins Micawber George Cukor
June 19, 1936 Poppy Professor Eustace P. McGargle A. Edward Sutherland
February 18, 1938 The Big Broadcast of 1938 T. Frothingill Bellows
S. B. Bellows
Mitchell Leisen
February 17, 1939 You Can't Cheat an Honest Man Larson E. Whipsnade George Marshall Story by "Charles Bogle" (W.C. Fields)
February 9, 1940 My Little Chickadee Cuthbert J. Twillie Edward Cline Bar scene written by W.C. Fields
November 29, 1940 The Bank Dick Egbert Sousè Edward Cline Story by "Mahatma Kane Jeeves" (W.C. Fields)
October 10, 1941 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
October 30, 1942 Tales of Manhattan Professor Postlewhistle Julien Duvivier Sequence with Fields cut from original release, restored for home video (VHS)
May 5, 1944 Follow the Boys Himself A. Edward Sutherland Fields revived his old trick pool table routine
June 21, 1944 Song of the Open Road Himself S. Sylvan Simon Fields juggled for a few moments
June 30, 1944 Sensations of 1945 Himself Andrew L. Stone Fields revived part of his old "Caledonian Express" sketch


  1. ^ "Fields always observed his birthday on January 29, and his death certificate confirms this .... When Fields married Harriet Veronica Hughes in San Francisco, on April 8, 1900, he was twenty years old and, under California law, could not enter into a marriage without parental consent. He therefore gave his birthdate as April 9, 1879, and often used this date thereafter. However, when he applied for a passport later that same year, he swore under oath that his correct birthdate was January 29, 1880." Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 525
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, January 1, 1947, page 46.
  3. ^ Simon Louvish, Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields, 1997.
  4. ^ http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2003-04-06/entertainment/0304040528_1_fields-career-vaudeville-ziegfeld-follies
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 8.
  7. ^ a b Louvish, Simon. Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields, 1999, Faber & Faber, p. 31.
  8. ^ 1880 census, Philadelphia, p. 129A
  9. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 14.
  10. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 12.
  11. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 16–17.
  12. ^ a b "W.C. Fields Biography". The Biography Channel (UK). 
  13. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 17.
  14. ^ Louvish, Simon. Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields, 1999, Faber & Faber, p. 10.
  15. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 24, 26.
  16. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 26.
  17. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 30.
  18. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 46–47.
  19. ^ "W.C. Fields Biography". The Biography Channel (UK). 
  20. ^ "W. C. Fields's Widow Wins. Entitled to Half $771,000, Though Long Estranged, Judge Rules.". New York Times. July 8, 1949. 
  21. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 48.
  22. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 50.
  23. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 82.
  24. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 19, 1966). "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." 
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 178, 474.
  28. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 69.
  29. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 68–69.
  30. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p, 72.
  31. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 85.
  32. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 87.
  33. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 99–100.
  34. ^ "Ally Sloper: The First Comics Superstar?", Roger Sabin, Image & Narrative, October 2003
  35. ^ Gehring, W. D. (1994). Groucho and W.C. Fields Huckster comedians. Jackson, Miss: University Press of Mississippi. p. 70. ISBN 0-585-19049-6
  36. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 121.
  37. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 203.
  38. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 215.
  39. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 347.
  40. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 103–105.
  41. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 106, 166.
  42. ^ Everson, William K. (1967). The Art of W.C. Fields. New York: Bonanza Books. p. 85. ISBN 0-517-01232-4.
  43. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 259.
  44. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 424.
  45. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 303–307, 331–332.
  46. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 300.
  47. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 378.
  48. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 3.
  49. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 3–4.
  50. ^ Louvish, Simon. Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields, 1999, Faber & Faber, p. 191.
  51. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 329.
  52. ^ Everson, William K. (1967). The Art of W.C. Fields. New York: Bonanza Books. p. 81. ISBN 0-517-01232-4.
  53. ^ Jan Duggan (actress). omnilexica.com. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  54. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 392.
  55. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 393.
  56. ^ Louvish, Simon. Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields, 1999, Faber & Faber, p. 464.
  57. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 293–294.
  58. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 116–117.
  59. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 260, 263.
  60. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 264, 300.
  61. ^ Silvers, Phil (1973). This Laugh is on Me.
  62. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 230.
  63. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 355–70.
  64. ^ W.C. Fields Radio recordings
  65. ^ Fields was known among his friends as "Bill". 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").
  66. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 434–435.
  67. ^ a b Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 472.
  68. ^ "W. C. Fields: Behind the Laughter". Biography. August 8, 1994. A&E.
  69. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 415–416.
  70. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 454–456.
  71. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 466.
  72. ^ "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. "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." 
  73. ^ W.C. Fields: Straight Up at the Internet Movie Database
  74. ^ a b Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 481.
  75. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 481–482.
  76. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 486.
  77. ^ a b Louvish, Simon. Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields, 1999, Faber & Faber, p. 34.
  78. ^ 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
  79. ^ Jordan, S. C. (2008). Hollywood's original rat pack: The bards of Bundy Drive. Lanham, Maryland [u.a.]: Scarecrow Press. p. 152. ISBN 0-8108-6032-5
  80. ^ Buscombe, Edward, and Rob White. (2003). British Film Institute film classics. T. 1. London: Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 269. ISBN 1579583288.
  81. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 373–376.
  82. ^ Mell, Eila (2005). Casting might-have-beens: a film by film directory of actors considered for roles given to others. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 132. ISBN 0786420170.
  83. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, p. 487.
  84. ^ "Here a Comic Genius, There a Comic Genius," N.Y. Times Arts section: 1/30/2000
  85. ^ Curtis, James. W.C. Fields: A Biography. A. Knopf, New York, 2003, pp. 491–492.
  86. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWVZALDUd7c
  87. ^ Woolery, George W. (1983). Children's television, the first thirty-five years, 1946-1981. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press. p. 199. ISBN 0810815575.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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, ISBN 978-0139444548. (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

External links[edit]