W. C. Fields

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W. C. Fields
William Claude Dukenfield
BirthplaceDarby, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Actor, comedian, juggler, writer

Fields, W. C.

Fields, W. C. (William Claude Fields), 1880–1946, American comic actor, b. Philadelphia as Claude William Dukenfield. He began his career as a juggler, and much later appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies and in Earl Carroll's Vanities. In 1925, he first worked with D. W. Griffith. With his rasping voice and bulbous nose, Fields was an able satiric comedian. At his best in portrayals of drunken, swaggering, and down-at-the-heels rascals, Fields could be pointedly vitriolic and uproariously funny. Among his best films are It's a Gift (1934) and The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935). He scored a personal triumph in his sole dramatic role, as Micawber in David Copperfield (1935). He wrote the stories or screenplays for many of his films. One of his last works, My Little Chickadee (1940), costarred and was cowritten by Mae West.


See D. Deschner, The Films of W. C. Fields (1966); biographies by R. L. Taylor (1948), R. Fields (1973), S. Louvish (1997), and J. Curtis (2003); study by W. K. Everson (1967).

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Fields, W. C. (b. William Claude Dukenfield)

(1879–1946) movie actor, screenwriter; born in Philadelphia, Pa. Son of a cockney-English immigrant, he had little education but learned of life on the streets and took up juggling. By age 14 he was working professionally and he soon began to appear in vaudeville and in Europe as "The Tramp Juggler." From 1915–21 he was one of the stars in the Ziegfeld Follies, but his comic patter was becoming as important as his juggling skills and in 1924 he had his first Broadway role as a comic actor. He began to make silent films, and went on to major stardom in the talking films and radio where his inimitable raspy voice completed his characterization of a bulbous-nosed, child-hating, habitually tipsy misanthrope. In fact, his real-life personality was not unlike the one he cultivated in the movies—he deeply distrusted most established institutions and sentiments, going so far as to keep his money in savings accounts in scores of banks and under fictitious names. Author of the screenplays for many of his movies, his still popular classics include: You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939), My Little Chickadee (1940), The Bank Dick (1941), and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941). His popularity has survived his demise and he remains one of the archetypal American comedians.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.