W. C. Fields

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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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