Saturday, December 25, 2021

W. C. Fields, Comic, Dies at 66; Quips With Nurses To the Last -- December 25, 2021

Washington Evening Star, 26-December-1946

Ironically, WC Fields, who professed to hate children and Christmas, died 75 years ago on Christmas day, 25-December-1946. I wonder if the item in his will leaving money to help white orphans was a gag poking fun at racism, or was it actually racism? A "dropsical condition" is an edema, a swelling. Fields made his first two films in 1915, then returned to films in 1924. 

W. C. Fields, Comic, Dies at 66;
Quips With Nurses to Last
Dropsical Condition
Fatal to Juggler
Who Rose to Stardom

By the Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif,, Dec. 26. -- Bulbous-nosed W. C. Fields, 66, vaudevillian and movie comic, whose capacity for liquor finally became a matter of court record, died Christmas Day in a sanitarium where for months he had been under treatment for a liver ailment.

Nurses said he quipped with them until, a few hours before his death, he slipped into a coma.

Although he had been troubled by liver and kidney ailments for two years, physicians said the immediate cause of death was a dropsical condition.

Born Claude William Dukinfield in Philadelphia, January 29, 1880, he revised his last name, reversed his initials and graduated from a $5-a-week juggler to the Ziegfeld Follies and ultimately into films.

Nose Was Trademark.

Of his nose, a trademark sometimes believed connected with his love of strong beverage, he once said:

The Fields nose was this size before I ever learned there was such delight in experimenting with spirits frumenti."

Nine years ago, a physician sued Mr. Fields for $12,000 for 23 days of hospital treatment. Mr. Fields retorted in a cross-complaint that the doctor’s methods retarded his recovery, to which the physician replied that the comic’s habit of drinking two quarts a day was the impeding factor.

"Nonsense," Mr. Fields bellowed, in his best buffoon manner. "I never drank two quarts a day, not even in the good old days. Right now I'm a teetotaler."

The judge awarded the doctor $12,000, but the Appeals Court pared the figure to $2.000.

Frequent Gag Target.

He was a frequent target for gags from other comics and only yesterday -- on a special Christmas broadcast -- his close friend Bob Hope aimed a barb in Mr. Fields' direction, not knowing that the latter already was dead. Informed of it later. Mr. Hope said he made Mr. Fields a frequent target because the latter got "such a big kick out of it."

"I feel terrible about his death," Mr. Hope added. "He was one of the world’s great comedians. The world will certainly lose a lot of laughs."

Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in nearby Glendale, resting place of such movie greats as Jean Harlow, Marie Dressier and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., will be the scene of fujneral services. The time has not yet been set.

Left Home at 11.

Mr. Fields left home and school at the age of 11 after a dispute with his father.

For four years he existed with some other boys by doing odd jobs. He said he once had a job driving an ice wagon, but quit because he had to rise at 4 a.m. He determined to find a profession in which he would not have to get up in the morning.

The actor started juggling, while in his teens and declared he practiced sometimes 16 hours a day. His first professional job was in a summer park at Norristown. Pa., at $5 a week.

Advancing in the show business, Mr. Fields made a vaudeville tour of Europe and other continents. On his return from a trip to Australia he was discovered by Composer Gene Buck and brought to the attention of Florenz Ziegfeld, the great showman. For 10 years Fields was a member of the Ziegleld troupe of comedians that included Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Fanny Brice and Bert Williams. He also was in Earl Caroll’s "Vanities."

Entered Films in 1924.

In 1924 Producer D. W. Griffith was making "Sally of the Sawdust," a film version of Fields' stage success, "Poppy," and induced the comedian to recreate the role on the screen. Mr. Fields stayed for seven more pictures before he returned to Broadway.

He went back to Hollywood in 1932, this time to stay. Although he never received screen credit, he wrote much of his own material, using such pseudonyms as Charles Bogle or Mahatma Khan Jeeves.

Outstanding pictures in which Fields appeared included: "It's the Old Army Game," "Million Dollar Legs, "If I Had a Million," "International House," "Six of a Kind," "Alice in Wonderland," "Old Fashioned Way," "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch," "It’s a Gift," "David Copperfield," "Mississippi," "The Man on the Flying Trapeze," "Poppy," "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man," "My Little Chickadee," "The Bank Dick" and "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break."

Always A Showman.

The comedian had no use for a script. He would just get a fair idea of the movie story and ad lib it from there. The same was true on the air and many a radio executive spent frightening moments while Mr. Fields deviated from the written (and censored) script. A true showman, he was the master of any situation. During one theater engagement an assistant fell against a backdrop and brought the painting of houses on a New York street crashing to the stage. Fields saved the day by remarking. "They don't put up buildings like they used to."

About the only time he stuck to the script was when he played Micawber in the picturization of Dickens' "David Copperfield." "Even then I could think of some snappy ways to read the lines," he said.

Mr. Fields was married in 1901 and was never divorced. His wife Harriet, a nonprofessional, reared their only child. W. C. Jr., after they were separated. W. C. III, a grandchild. was born in 1943.

Washington Evening Star, 26-December-1946

Fields' Will Sets Up Fund
For College for Orphans

By the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 28. -- Comedian W. C. Fields, who died Christmas Day, bequeathed part of his estate for the benefit of orphans, Attorney Leo L. Schaumer said today.

Mr. Schaumer. counsel for the executrix, Mrs. Magda Michael, Mr. Fields' secretary for many years, said the will directed that a trust fund be set up to establish a non-denominational college here for white orphans.

Members of Mr. Fields' family also are beneficiaries, Mr. Schaumer said. He would not disclose the size of the estate or of the proposed trust fund. The will was drawn in 1943.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed.

Washington Evening Star, 31-December-1946

Private Rites Will Be Held
Thursday for W. C. Fields

By the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 31. -- Private funeral services for W. C. Fields, the comedian, will be held Thursday morning.

His widow, Harriet, from whom he was separated years ago, disclosed through her lawyer that an intimate friend would say a word of farewell and that only Mr. Fields’ closest friends would attend.

Burial will be in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.

Announcing that the body would be placed in a mausoleum, the attorney for Mrs. Fields said: "We do not wish that he be cremated, as this is not favored by the Catholic Church. While we favored interment in the ground, he always opposed being buried in the earth and we are sure that he would be comfortable with what we have done."

Mr. Fields left instructions that his body be cremated.

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