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CaveGirl

Drat!

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I say "Drat!" because there are only so many hours in a day to watch W.C.Fields. I'm not a medical professional but if I were I'd prescribe at least a half hour daily of viewing his onscreen bits to up one's endorphin levels by experiencing the joy of pure laughter. TCM kindly gave us many hours yesterday of such pleasures and included even such rarely scheduled gems like "Million Dollar Legs" with the great Jack Oakie. One dose of such films could cure incessant depression if one has a viable sense of humor, but I digress.

As Robert Klein says in one of the TCM Fields promos, "He's soooo funny!" Those with insufficient humor quotients might take umbrage at some of Bill's remarks like on the train with Gloria Jean, when he talks about Shriners, tent-size pants, and the girth of diner waitresses or other such cracks, but as Fields once said...he's not prejudiced, he hates everyone.

Not really true, but as a screen persona, it is very egalitarian and takes away the guilt of any admirers who are not attuned to a man who says "Anyone who hates children and dogs can't be all bad." I first became aware of Fields when my parents took me and siblings to a Fields festival film marathon locally. I think they felt viewing Fields was de rigueur, and they were right. Later when it became time for my eldest sibling to choose a spouse, our parents had only one requirement for all of us: "Don't bring home anyone who doesn't like W.C. Fields." 

As I recall from reading countless bios, Fields somewhat attributed his vocal mannerisms of bombastic tone to hearing his pater familias and local fruit vendors hawk their wares in the neighborhood. Another definitive influence was his mother, Kate whose sarcastic asides came to full fruition in his seemingly henpecked husband demeanor onscreen accompanied by devastatingly caustic quiet digs at the expense of those who continually assailed him. I think they deserved any invectives and am always totally with Bill in his revelry.

As the Tramp Juggler, Fields travelled the world in the vaudeville circuits, and later with the Ziegfeld revues, earning fame for his unique talents as comedian and juggler. It's one thing to juggle admirably the normal objects, it's another to make your act fail purposely and then retrieve the lost object in mid-motion with aplomb. This was one of the secrets to his original success but there were other elements which solidified his place as a natural for film, even in silents like "Sally of the Sawdust" and others. Perhaps the belief by Fields that "broken" is not funny, but "bent" is, were a part of his appeal.

Fields years on the road included legendary stories about his marking his liquor bottles to ensure no one had confiscated any booze, even though many say he was not entirely dependent on it till a bit later, since juggling requires skills of steadiness. One time he supposedly tried to teach a fellow he secretly disliked, to juggle knives...with the intended result. Often being stranded in small towns in the early days of his act, he would abscond without paying the hotel bill, and the lack of money caused him to start the practice of opening bank accounts in many places under assumed names, many of which might still be out there or in the unclaimed funds dossier. One legendary story concerned an elderly man in Ohio, who as a boardinghouse owner, caught Fields trying to escape without paying. Fields was forced to explain that he simply did not have the money and to his surprise, the man reportedly said something like "That's okay. Just mail me the money when you can." Fields said this was one of the few kindnesses he had ever experienced on the road and he never forgot it, inviting the man in later years to California events and keeping in touch. I think this says something about Fields that I like.

Fields had married early in his career to his assistant in the act, Hattie and had a son with her, William Claude Junior. Though they separated at an early point, Bill did continue to support his family and after his death, William Claude [who was a dead ringer for him in both looks and voice] had a brief career in the 1960's doing tv commercials when the Fields persona was again being admired and sought in film revivals and such.

My favorite movies of Fields are...all of them! But I have a special place in my heart for any in which he juggles things like plates in "Her Majesty Love" or cigar boxes like in "The Old Fashioned Way" [with Baby Leroy] or when he is playing pool and ruining the felt, or pulling teeth like in "The Dentist" or ruining a golf game as in "The Golf Specialist" or when he gets continually hit in the face with faux snow in "The Fatal Glass of Beer" which TCM kindly showed also last night. I also love "Poppy" with Rochelle Hudson and "It's a Gift" which is one of the best of the family intriques he loved to satirize.

Fields once called Chaplin not a comedian but a ballet dancer, and said the only act he could not follow was with the Marx Brothers, but deep down he probably respected both, using the Groucho term in his bit with Franklin Pangborn in last night's showing of "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break". The storyline for "NGSAEB" seemingly is the prototype for ideas which seem unfilmable like "The Princess Bride" since the action in "Sucker" breaks off interminably back and forth between Fields explaining the action to come, and then a respite of seeing said action evolve visually. Another Fields invention was to incorporate in everything seemingly his affinity for pool and if he could have put it in "David Copperfield" he would have. His love though for Dickens, to whom he attributed his verbal terminology for antiquated words in his ad libs, had been attained while on the road when Bill carried with him a suitcase of books, due to his lack of normal education as a child. Add to this his patented hat and cane tricks and the beleaguered father routine in which Bill would tell a child "You're not going to say I don't love you!" accompanied by a rap on the noggin, and you have classic Fieldsian humor.

I usually have an immediate connection with anyone who gets Fields and finds him hilarious. Bill is the browbeaten man, trampled upon, who can't even get a moment of peace to shave, eat or simply be, with people like Mr. Muckle torturing him by brandishing a cane around a light bulb display. or a wife like Mrs. Bissonet yelling at him while sleeping on a porch hammock with the invective "Wake up...and go to bed!" These events strike a deep nerve and Fields' ungodly view of the vicissitudes of mankind which assail all of us, and his way of defeating it by acceptance and basically talking behind others backs, still resonates, through our veils of frustration with annoying people. 

One's favorite Fields' film can tell a lot about one. Post yours here and risk some amateur analysis. And thanks to TCM for keeping the Fields persona alive with such scheduling of his oeuvre!

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My favorite W.C. Fields film is IT'S A GIFT. The comic episodes at the beginning with his family are priceless. But the road trip is equally hilarious. And the picture has a sweet happy ending. We literally go on a journey with him as the story plays out. 

The girl who plays his daughter, the late great Jean Rouverol, was one of my professors in college. I took two writing courses under her guidance at the University of Southern California in the mid-1990s. She was nearly 80 when I met her, and she continued to teach for several more years after I graduated. I stayed in touch with her, especially when she finally published her autobiography (she and her husband Hugo Butler the screenwriter had been blacklisted and had spent years in the 50s and 60s outside the U.S. because of it). 

Jean always had such excellent stories about working in the film and television business. Just like her husband, she also wrote screenplays and later teleplays. Plus she did articles and stories for magazines, as well as having the book published. So she was a wide-ranging talent.

She had begun as an actress in movies and on radio. You can imagine the numerous stories she had about people she and her husband knew and worked with. Oh, and her mother had been a playwright who wrote the original stage play that served as the basis for the Andy Hardy movies. The blacklisting stuff gave her added value as a wise sage who know about the political ins and outs of Hollywood. She was very active for years with the Writers Guild. Then there was her experience working at the university level, with the politics and intrigue of academia. You can imagine what a valuable resource of information she was for a young student like myself, as well as for my classmates. She mentored us in so many important ways, and it's why I took a second course with her because she was so lovely.

The long and short of this is that she NEVER once talked about working with W.C. Fields. And I didn't see IT'S A GIFT for the first time until TCM aired it a few years ago. For some reason I had never thought to look up her credits on the IMDb. You can imagine my surprise at seeing her name in the credits, then seeing her in a movie from 1934! I still don't know why she never mentioned playing Fields' teen daughter. Maybe it wasn't a good experience for her, or maybe there were just too many other more important things that had occurred during her life. Jean also had a role in STAGE DOOR, and she did a western with a young Tim Holt (as his love interest). But it's truly fun to see her with the Fields and the rest of the splendid cast in IT'S A GIFT.

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What a great story, TB! I thank you so much for sharing it.

I too love "It's a Gift" since it has so many classic scenes. The family at meals and the abrasive Kathleen Howard as Mrs. Bisson-AY, the picnic in the supposed park, Fields eating a sandwich with the crumbs falling into the kid's mouth below and the bumbershoot episode, Baby [Leroy] Dunk almost skewering him with a screw driver falling through the opening on the porch above, the horrible mother and daughter with the sing-songy voices waking him up, the hammock falling down and of course, the search for Carl LaFong.

I was worried when you mentioned that perhaps your teacher, Jean did not mention Fields due to having a bad experience with him, but in searching her name came up with the fact that she attended a celebration of Fields with his grandson, Ronald at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2007, and there are some nice photos of this online to check out. As you say, she had quite an interesting life on and off the film period and I enjoyed reading her entire bio online. Without you bringing up her name, I would have missed knowing about her, since we can often forget all the other people in smaller parts in a film, so thanks again for your contribution to information on this Fields' film!

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7 minutes ago, CaveGirl said:

What a great story, TB! I thank you so much for sharing it.

I too love "It's a Gift" since it has so many classic scenes. The family at meals and the abrasive Kathleen Howard as Mrs. Bisson-AY, the picnic in the supposed park, Fields eating a sandwich with the crumbs falling into the kid's mouth below and the bumbershoot episode, Baby [Leroy] Dunk almost skewering him with a screw driver falling through the opening on the porch above, the horrible mother and daughter with the sing-songy voices waking him up, the hammock falling down and of course, the search for Carl LaFong.

I was worried when you mentioned that perhaps your teacher, Jean did not mention Fields due to having a bad experience with him, but in searching her name came up with the fact that she attended a celebration of Fields with his grandson, Ronald at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2007, and there are some nice photos of this online to check out. As you say, she had quite an interesting life on and off the film period and I enjoyed reading her entire bio online. Without you bringing up her name, I would have missed knowing about her, since we can often forget all the other people in smaller parts in a film, so thanks again for your contribution to information on this Fields' film!

Thanks for letting me know she had attended a Fields retrospective. I'm glad she had good memories of working on the film with him. In my classes with her at USC, for obvious reasons since these were writing courses, she tended to discuss her career as a writer more than her career as an actress. But every now and then she would mention a get-together with former costars from whatever production she had been in...yet for some reason, she never brought up Fields. If I had known about IT'S A GIFT much sooner, I would certainly have asked her. 

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What a lovely write up, Cavegirl. I've been a fan of Fields for years, my fave film being It's A Gift. It is the one movie that keeps me in stitches throughout. I made it home from work last night just as the family was departing from their picnic on private property, knocking over the lawn sprinkler and leaving all sorts of rubbish in their wake. So I missed one of my favorite lines when Bissonette runs into the statue and says, "She ran right out in front of the car!" However, I do have a collection of Fields on DVD. It's A Gift has had many plays in my home.

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So kind of you, Janet and consider yourself now in my best friends list [whether you like it or not]!

You are so right, that scene still makes me laugh out loud. Fields is so innocently bereft of any real knowledge of the mess he is creating. Just watching him eat that sandwich is a joy, though if I really knew him and was watching it I'd be so appalled. He is the master of chaos yet so lacking in any real understanding of his ability to create havoc, that we see him as the victim. I think as a whole, "It's a Gift" is one of his finest and most realized comedies on tap.

Thanks for your very sage assessment of the picnic hilarity!

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My favorite of Fields' work is the Fatal Glass of Beer. The set up and story is good and the song is very funny. It works because it contrasts the seemingly melancholy lyrics with the funny flashbacks. Then when their son returns the jokes fly and it ends with the funny twist ending. :lol: A very consistently funny film.

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When I was very young, my uncle on my mother's side used to continually use Fields' catchphrase at the sight of even one flake of snow. At that time, I had not seen the short so I could not figure out what was so funny about the line. But upon seeing it finally at the age of about sixteen, I immediately fell prey to its comedic suggestibility. It's funny because it is nonsensical, ridiculous, surrealistic and probably from a demented mind's deep recesses. And it's so freakishly hilarious that it never does not make me laugh. Even the title of the bit is just out there, and the caricature of the son is psychotically amusing as is Fields in his outdoor and outlandish garb. Really not something one can explain logically as the whole shebang has to be seen. Great choice and thanks for joining in the Fieldsian frivolity!

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2 hours ago, CaveGirl said:

So kind of you, Janet and consider yourself now in my best friends list [whether you like it or not]!

You are so right, that scene still makes me laugh out loud. Fields is so innocently bereft of any real knowledge of the mess he is creating. Just watching him eat that sandwich is a joy, though if I really knew him and was watching it I'd be so appalled. He is the master of chaos yet so lacking in any real understanding of his ability to create havoc, that we see him as the victim. I think as a whole, "It's a Gift" is one of his finest and most realized comedies on tap.

Thanks for your very sage assessment of the picnic hilarity!

Actually, it's been years since I've seen his other work at Paramount. But you can't help loving It's A Gift. 

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Ladies and germs, I present for your enjoyment, The Great McGonigle. No children screaming or throwing fruit or vegetables at the stage please. You may disrupt the concentration of the Great McGonigle. I thank you . . . . . .

Who let that brat in here? Did he not hear what I said?

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I got a chance to meet WC Fields' granddaughter, Dr. Harriet Fields, as she was present at showings of two of his silent films: It's The Old Army Game (1926) and So's Your Old Man (1926).  She's quite an accomplished person in her own right.

https://drharrietfields.com/w-c-fields/

 

Also, on March 13th, Kino Classics is releasing It's The Old Army Game and Running Wild (1927) on DVD and Blu-Ray.

 

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Heads up--

MILLION DOLLAR LEGS will be rebroadcast on TCM Sunday March 4th.

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On 1/4/2018 at 7:59 AM, TomJH said:

Ladies and germs, I present for your enjoyment, The Great McGonigle. No children screaming or throwing fruit or vegetables at the stage please. You may disrupt the concentration of the Great McGonigle. I thank you . . . . . .

Who let that brat in here? Did he not hear what I said?

He's so wonderful! I find him very attractive and would have enjoyed dating Bill fer shure! What an amazing performance this is, that I always find incredible and that is one of his funniest films!

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19 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Heads up--

MILLION DOLLAR LEGS will be rebroadcast on TCM Sunday March 4th.

Thanks, I can never see Jack Oakie singing too many times in one month!

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15 minutes ago, CaveGirl said:

He's so wonderful! I find him very attractive and would have enjoyed dating Bill fer shure! What an amazing performance this is, that I always find incredible and that is one of his funniest films!

The Old Fashioned Way is also not to be missed for Jan Duggan's performance as Cleopatra Pepperday. Her prancing around the living room while singing/murdering an old chestnut "Gathering Up The Shells By The Seashore" while Fields helplessly witnesses this disaster is not to be missed.

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1 hour ago, TomJH said:

The Old Fashioned Way is also not to be missed for Jan Duggan's performance as Cleopatra Pepperday. Her prancing around the living room while singing/murdering an old chestnut "Gathering Up The Shells By The Seashore" while Fields helplessly witnesses this disaster is not to be missed.

I rewatched that last nite from my boxed set and honestly, she is simply a riot!

When her curls start falling out of her hairdo, it kills me. Her singing is simply not to be believed! Fields' reactions are priceless.

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45 minutes ago, CaveGirl said:

I rewatched that last nite from my boxed set and honestly, she is simply a riot!

When her curls start falling out of her hairdo, it kills me. Her singing is simply not to be believed! Fields' reactions are priceless.

And don't forget a couple of great Fields asides regarding Cleopatra. When he first sees her he says "She looks like a well kept grave." After being informed that she is the richest woman in town, however, she is "The cow with the silver lining."

I love Fields' unabashedly mercenary attitude regarding courting a woman to get her money. But it wasn't always money.

In Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, he informs the maidenly Sasu Pitts that he will marry her if she is a good cook. After taking a bite of the mince pie she serves him he stands up and bellows, "Madame, will you marry me?" After she says yes, he says "Good" then sits down to resume eating the rest of the pie.

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