W.C. Fields was so many things that the image of the drunken, child-hating, dog-kicking,man is unfair, even if it was meticulously promoted by the man himself. Born William Claude Dukenfeld in Philadelphia in 1880, he got the itch to join the theater. At the time that meant being a part of the traveling burlesque circuit. He married Hattie Hughes in 1900 and would have one son, Claude.
He became W.C. Fields and travelled the globe performing as perhaps the greatest juggler the world has ever seen. As the public's taste in entertainment changed so did Fields' act. He added trick billiard routines and jokes as vaudeville became the rage. By 1920 he was as popular as any performer in America starring in the Ziegfield Follies with legendary performers Fanny Brice, Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor. Still he looked to evolve further into the motion picture business.
His early short movies were not hits but he kept refining his act, his material and his own personality. By the 30's and 40's his career had reached its stride. He was one of the top movie stars in the world with movies such as It's A Gift, The Bank Dick and My Little Chickadee. He declined the role of the wizard in the The Wizard of Oz due to other obligations although the part was written for him. Possibly his radio routines performed with his nemesis Charley McCarthy (Victor Bergen) are what most Americans remember from the golden days of radio.
James Curtis captures the complex and hard driven individuality of the entertainer who would rise from humble beginnings in Philadelphia to stardom in the theaters and movie houses of America and the world.
This report prepared by David Fletcher