He was more than a gin-besotted juggler and movie funnyman. W.C. Fields was a tragic figure who worked hard for his career, even though the movie studios didn’t always cooperate.
Like many comedians, it seems, Fields worked through personal issues – drinking among them, yes, but also a loveless marriage, a series of affairs and continuing professional disappointments.
Fields went from vaudeville to radio, from love to loneliness, and from success to failure and back again. Along the way, he wrote many of the scenes and gags that made him a known quantity. But the legend of his drinking always outweighed the reality.
Throw in a wife he left but never divorced and a handful of skits from the formative days of vaudeville that he kept resurrecting in movie after movie and you’ll see why he never quite rose up to the top until, ironically, after his death.
Fields is quoted extensively from his own memoirs and letters, and comes off as a much smarter man than I was expecting. He also was shrewd – he stashed away money at banks all over the world just in case.
One of the more amazing comedians of the era.