“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it too the food.” — W.C. Fields
William Claude Dukenfield was born on this day in Darby, Pennsylvania, USA in 1880. Today is the 133rd anniversary of his birth.
His father, James, was an imigrant from Sheffield, England. He fought in the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry in the American Civil War and was wounded in the war. His mother, Kate, who was of German ancestry, was 15 years younger than James. James was a clerk after the war. He sold vegetables and was a part time hotel-keeper when W.C. came along.
It is hard to tell the myth from reality in W.C. Fields’ youth. It depends on where you look. But he seems to have gone to school for about four years before joining his father in selling vegetables on a horse drawn cart. W.C. also worked in a department store and and oyster house. His relationship with his father, who was an alcholic, was not good.
At eleven, after many fights with his alcoholic father (who hit him on the head with a shovel), he ran away from home. [IMDB]
Fields told tales of living on the street, sleeping in a whole in the ground and stealing food and clothing to stay alive. In reality, though he did run away it was usually to his grandmothers and return home the next day.
His first regular job was delivering ice. By age thirteen he was a skilled pool player and juggler. …In 1893 he was employed as a juggler at Fortescue’s Pier, Atlantic City. When business was slow he pretended to drown in the ocean (management thought his fake rescue would draw customers). By nineteen he was billed as “The Distinguished Comedian” and began opening bank accounts in every city he played. [Ibid]
By 23 he was opening at the Palace in London and performing with Sarah Bernhardt at Buckingham Palace. Starting in 1915 he was in the Ziegfeld Follies for six years. 1915 was also his first movie, Pool Sharks. In 1923 he was in the musical Poppy. The play was made into a movie, Sally of the Sawdust in 1925 by legendary D.W. Griffith.
Here he is in the Diner Sketch from Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
Other film highlights include David Copperfield (1935), You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939) , My Little Chickadee (1940) and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941).
He made over 37 moves for Paramount before switching to Universal
W.C. Fields was an actor whose flawless timing and humorous cantankerousness made him one of America’s greatest comedians. [Biography]
He died in 1946 on Christmas Day from an alcohol-related stomach hemorrhage. He was 66 years old.