W.C. Fields

On this date in 1880, comedian W.C. Fields (née William Claude Dukenfield) was born in Philadelphia. His father was a Cockney immigrant and his mother a native Philadelphian. Fields dropped out after 4 years of schooling to work with his father, who ran a horse-drawn vegetable cart. A rough home life drove Fields away by the age of 11. He lived on the streets, was occasionally beat up and sometimes jailed. By 13, he had become skilled at juggling and playing pool. That year he moved to Atlantic City where he was hired to juggle (perfecting the appearance of losing his juggling pieces) and, when business was slow, to pretend to drown for crowd amusement. At 19, he was dubbed "The Distinguished Comedian." By 23 he played at Buckingham Palace in London, appearing the same evening as Sarah Bernhardt. Fields was on the program with Charles Chaplin and Maurice Chevalier at Folies-Bergeres. His first movie, at age 35, fittingly was "Pool Shark" (1915). Fields appeared in 37 movies, including "David Copperfield" (despite his adage, "Never work with animals or children") and "My Little Chickadee" (1940). Known for his poses as caustic curmudgeon and imbiber, Fields actually had two sons, did not appear in public inebriated, and was known to dote on his three grandchildren. D. 1946.

"Prayers never bring anything. . . . They may bring solace to the sap, the bigot, the ignorant, the aboriginal, and the lazy, but to the enlightened it is the same as asking Santa Claus to bring you something for Xmas."

—W.C. Fields, cited by Warren Allen Smith in Who's Who in Hell

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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