29 Jan 1880 1
Darby, Pennsylvania, 1
25 Dec 1946 1
Pasadena, California 1

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Personal Details

Full Name:
William Claude Dukenfield 1
Also known as:
W. C. Fields 1
29 Jan 1880 1
Darby, Pennsylvania, 1
Male 1
25 Dec 1946 1
Pasadena, California 1
Cause: alcohol-related stomach hemorrhage 1
Mother: Kate Spangler (née Felton), 1
Father: James Lydon Dukenfield 1
Actor, comedian, juggler, writer 1
Race or Ethnicity:
English, German 1

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  1. Contributed by bruceyrock632



"Someone should tell Mr. Fields that he does not have to wear that silly, artificial nose to be funny," a critic once wrote about our star of the month W.C. Fields. The writer, who obviously didn't get around much, was unaware that Fields' big, bulbous, tomato-red nose was "The Real McCoy," a huge apparition some observers swore grew in size by the week. (Edgar Bergen via his dummy Charlie McCarthy, used to refer to Fields as "the original half-man, half-nose.") The critic, however, was dead-on regarding that other observation about Fields: he was indeed funny, hilariously funny, and we have the films to prove it. All month long we'll be showing you ample samples of his ability to inspire laughs, roars and guffaws of the knee-slapping variety. Further, in between the Fields films, we'll also be bringing you a cornucopia of tidbits about the man behind the schnozola. He was, for instance, born William Claude Dunkenfield and was billed under all three names when he began as a juggler in show business when barely in his teens. At the age of 16, one theatre manager found that name much too long for his billboard, so without even asking, the manager chopped off the "Dunken" and substituted initials in place of the boy's two given names, thus, W.C. Fields was born and remained so for the next 51 years. 

History doesn't tell us at which age he began drinking but his imbibing eventually became as legendary as his comic turns. It's said Fields could easily down three quarts of whiskey in a day and not only keep standing, but keep working. Fields wrote most of his funniest films himself, under pseudonyms like Mahatma Kane Jeeves, Otis Criblecablis and Charles Bogle, and in the scripts he wrote, his movie wives were invariably pretentious harridans and his film sons were always disrespectful whiners. That was Fields' basic impression of his own wife and son; about his wife Hattie, Fields once said, "She drove me to drink. It's the one thing I'm indebted to her for." There was no daughter in the Fields' household, which is probably why the daughters in his screenplays were loving and gentle, a gilded image of the daughter he wished he had. 

Fields came very close to starring in MGM's classic The Wizard of Oz. In August 1938, the film's producer Mervyn LeRoy asked Fields to play either The Wizard or The Cowardly Lion, whichever he preferred, for which he would receive star billing and a $5000-per-day fee, an astronomical fee. Fields said no; he didn't thinkWizard had the sweet smell of success about it. He may have been a bad fortune-teller and a less than sober citizen, but nothing kept him from bouncing forth with funny lines and first-rate quips, even on his deathbed. When one of his last visitors came to see him, Fields was reading a Bible. Since he had never been a religious man, the visitor asked, "why the Bible? Retorted W.C., a rascal to the end, "I'm lookin' for loopholes." 

by Robert Osborne

W.C. Fields, 66, Dies; Famed as Comedian

asadena, Calif., Dec. 25--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.

He was equally well know in show business for his ad libbing and complete disregard for prepared scripts, either in the movies or radio. Once he said that the only lines he followed truly were those of Charles Dickens.

Fields got his first job in show business as a juggler at a summer part in Norristown, Pa., at $5 a week.

Left Home at Age of 11

Few men have contributed as much to the world's merriment as W. C. Fields. The comedian who ran away from home when he was 11 years old, who starved and suffered and was forced to live on his wits, kept his sense of the ridiculous--developing it, indeed, it would seem, with every hard knock he received in his youth.

His capital consisted of a highly expressive face, with a bulbous nose as the main feature, a fine voice for comedy purposes and a profound capacity for punishment. Of earthly goods he had little until he blossomed forth as one of the really great comedians about the year 1924.

His art has been described erroneously as that of the slapstick and clownerie. It is true that he could out-slapstick and out-clown most funny men of stage, circus or screen, but he possessed just a little more than his contemporaries. He was a master mimic, inimitable in his droll asides, an improviser and innovator of new tricks.

Some years ago when a whole cast of screen stars were picked to take parts in "Alice in Wonderland" he easily outshone the others in his conception of Humpty Dumpty. The voice alone carried him to one of his greatest artistic triumphs in that egg disguise.

Career a Series of Struggles

It took many long years for Fields to reach the top. There are recorded struggles and infinite patience to master the art of juggling tennis balls and saucepans, night after night of sleeping under the stars, day after day of little or no food. A weaker man would have whined, begged, asked for governmental relief of some sort. Fields fought his fight against tremendous odds and won--and he never lost his humor. Even in life's darkest moments he saw something funny, for he had the true comedian's ability to laugh at himself.

Claude William Dukenfield--for that was his real name--was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 29, 1880. His father was severe, austere and very poor; also he had old-fashioned ideas about using the rod on his offspring.

There was nothing of the sentimental love-your-father complex in the lad's make-up, and the family ties were snapped forever one afternoon when the elder Dukenfield stepped on a toy shovel. The shovel smacked up against his shin. Thereupon the father used it as a paddle on the boy. The next day the lad waited for his father to arrive and then smacked his pater with a heavy wooden box. Then he ran away.

Developed Art of Juggling

The lad was then a homeless waif. His clothes were so many rags, his outlook most desolate. But he began to juggle anything he could find: stones, apples, tennis balls knocked over fences by beflanneled overprivileged youth and adroitly caught by the future star. Fields practiced for hours, gradually acquiring the exact sense of balance, and he finally managed to get himself engaged in his first theatrical venture.

It is recorded that he went abroad and performed juggling acts in Europe, Asia, South Africa, Australia and even at Pago Pago in the South Sea Islands. He was in Johannesburg while the guerrilla end of the Boer War was still on, juggling clubs and other sundry articles.

Dawn of success began to break when he was engaged for the Ziegfeld Follies. He filled in while the beautiful girls were changing costumes and drew plaudits from everybody except Flo Ziegfeld. The "Great Ziegfeld" knew about as much as there is to know about beautiful women, but he lacked appreciation of comedy. Field's act was cut from twenty-five to five minutes and he was more or less out in the cold again.

Soon after he went into motion pictures under the direction of D. W. Griffith. His many years in pantomime proved invaluable. He was an overnight success, and in 1926 he went on the staff of the Paramount-Famous Players-Lasky Corporation.

He is remembered for his notable presentation of Micawber in "David Copperfield." Other successes of the screen in which he played major parts include "The Great McGonigle," "Tillie and Gus," "Six of a Kind," "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch," "Mississippi" and "The Man on the Flying Trapeze."

During the last ten years the principal Fields films were "Poppy," "The Big Broadcast of 1938," "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man," "My Little Chickadee," written by Mae West and Mr. Fields and starring both; "The Bank Dick" and "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break."

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