Friday, January 29, 2010

I'd rather be in Philadelphia

The bulbous nosed fellow above is one William Claude Dukenfield, as known as W. C. Fields born this day 1880 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was a part-time tavern keeper, and his mother was from an old stock Philadelphia. Fields was to have a life long love of his home town. He left home at the age of 18, and became a tramp juggler in the vaudeville set. By the age of 21 he was a traveling juggling act, and in 1906 made his Broadway debut. Fields' act was juggling, but he soon found out that he could get more laughs if he added snide asides and patter to his act. This is the W. C. Fields that I find heroic, the smart ass, snarling, misanthropic type. The one that still remained a sympathetic figure even as he snarled out his contempt for women, children, and dogs. He was so good at projecting his stage persona that it is really the image that we all have of him as a person. Some parts of it are certainly true, he was known to fire BB pellets at fans that intruded upon his privacy at home, but he also was a rather kind fellow. He had two children, both of whom (after he and the mothers had split) he sent voluntary child support payments to. Try that on for size in today's deadbeat dad society. Another part of his persona, that all too sadly became true, was his fondness for booze. In his younger days, Fields did not drink preferring to keep his wits about him while he was on stage. I guess a drunk juggler probably is not really that funny. However, he would keep a bottle of the sauce around for other performers who did drink because he wanted their company to help fight off the loneliness of the road. It was this that led to his fondness for the bottle. He has been quoted as saying that he did not like water "because of all the things fish do in it." By 1936 he was seriously ill, made worse by his drinking, and his film career was put on hold. He was so ill, and so fond of the sauce that he began suffering from the DT's, and if you ever had anything close to those you will know that just is not a lot of fun. He made a semi-recovery, and had several more film roles. Perhaps his best known film "The Bank Dick" contains a classic example of Fields' dialogue. Fields' character walks into a bar and asks "was I in here last night, and did I spent a twenty dollar bill?" The bartender (played by Shemp Howard) replies "Yes." To which Fields replies "Whew! That is a load off my mind, I had thought I had LOST it." Now that is comedy, and I am a comedy snob, so it takes a lot to impress me in the comedic world. He spent his last weeks in a hospital, and a visiting friend caught him reading a bible, and asked why. Fields replied "I am looking for loopholes." An answer in line with his life long atheism. He died on a holiday that he claimed to despise, Christmas day, 1946. The title for this post is from Fields himself, and many have repeated it in different versions, it merely states the obvious, "on the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia." So, for being just too damn funny for words, W.C. Fields (January 29th, 1880- December 25th, 1946, at the age of 66) you are my (158th) hero of the day.

1 comment:

Harriet A. Fields said...

Please visit our Official W.C. Fields Web site, owned and operated by the W.C. Fields Family. You will see a special tribute in honor of the 130th anniversary of our grandfather's Birth, January 29, along with rarely seen family photos. Our W.C. Fields Collection, which chronicles the world's modern entertainment heritage will be coming to the New York Public Library Theatre Collection at Lincoln Center in the Spring/Summer season. Stay tuned to for the exact dates.