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Encyclopedia > W.C. Fields

W. C. Fields (January 29, 1880 - December 25, 1946) was an American comedian and actor. Fields created one of the great American comic personas of the first half of the 20th century - a misanthrope who teetered on the edge of buffoonery but never quite fell in, an egotist blind to his own failings, a charming drunk, and a man who hated children, dogs and women, unless they were the wrong sort of women.

Born William Claude Dukenfield, Fields ran away from home at age 11 and entered vaudeville. By age 21 he was traveling as a comedy juggling act, becoming a headliner in both North America and Europe. In 1906 he made his Broadway debut in the musical comedy The Ham Tree, signing with impresario Flo Ziegfeld.

Like many vaudevillians, Fields worked in silent films and one-reelers, but he first hit big theatrical fame in 1923 in the Broadway musical Poppy, where he perfected his persona as an oily, failed confidence man. Fields later appeared in talking feature films and short subjects, including the 1934 It's a Gift, which included a version of his stage sketch of trying to sleep on the back porch as a result of nagging family and being bedeviled by noisy neighbors and traveling salesmen.

Fields had an affection for unlikely names and many of his characters bore them. As he was often also a writer on his films, the credits often include quite unusual names.

He also played the Charles Dickens character Mr. Micawber, in MGM's David Copperfield, directed by George Cukor, in 1935. In 1936, Fields recreated his signature stage role in Poppy for Paramount Studios wherein Richard Cromwell, played the suitor of Fields' daughter, Rochelle Hudson.

Illness, worsened by his heavy drinking, stopped Fields' film work for a time, but he made a comeback trading insults with ventriloquist's dummy Charlie McCarthy on radio in 1938. In 1940 he made My Little Chickadee with Mae West, perhaps his best-remembered role, as well as The Bank Dick.

In a final irony, W. C. Fields died on the one holiday he claimed to despise: Christmas Day. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.

His mistress, Carlotta Monti, is among several others who have chronicled the famous actor's life. She recounts many amusing and insightful anecdotes concerning their life together in her book, W. C. Fields and Me. Her book was made into a film of the same name in 1976.


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External link

  • "W.C. Fields: The Radio Years" (http://www.louisville.edu/~kprayb01/WCRadio.html)



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