W.C. Fields – real name, William Claude Dukenfield – was born in Darby, Pennsylvania, in 1880, and died in Pasadena, California, in 1946 aged 66.
Fields started his show business career in vaudeville as a juggler, but is better known for his work as a comedian, actor, and writer. He was the main featured comedian with the Ziegfeld Follies for many years and starred in the Broadway musical Poppy in 1923. His subsequent roles were often those of a scoundrel or henpecked husband.
His comic persona was that of a hard-drinker, which was not so far from his real life as he became a heavy drinker when he grew older. Indeed, he died at the relatively young age of 66 from an alcohol-related stomach hemorrhage.
He delivered his lines in a unique rasping drawl and often used a very grandiloquent vocabulary. The publicity departments of the two major film studios for which Fields did most of his work (Paramount and Universal) maintained his on-screen image as if it were Fields himself.
W.C. Fields’ obsession with alcohol and alleged dislike of water are clearly exemplified in these quotes:
- I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.
- Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had nothing but food and water.
- I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.
- Sleep – the most beautiful experience in life – except drink.
- Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.
- You can’t trust water: Even a straight stick turns crooked in it.
- It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I never had the courtesy to thank her for it.
- I never worry about being driven to drink; I just worry about being driven home.
- Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.
- Now don’t say you can’t swear off drinking; it’s easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.
- I never drink water; that is the stuff that rusts pipes.
- Some weasel took the cork out of my lunch.
For many decades, W. C. Fields and his particular brand of humor were a feature of the American stage and movies, but he is virtually unknown to today’s generation.
Are you old enough to remember Fields at the height of his popularity? Do you think he was funny?
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