William Claude Dukenfield (January 29, 1880 in Darby, Pennsylvania – December 25, 1946), better known as W. C. Fields, was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer.
Fields's comic persona was a misanthropic and hard-drinking egotist, who remained a sympathetic character despite his snarling contempt for dogs and children. His career in show business began in vaudeville, where he attained international success as a silent juggler. He gradually incorporated comedy into his act, and was a featured comedian in the Ziegfeld Follies for several years. He became a star in the Broadway musical comedy Poppy (1923), in which he played a c
olorful small-time con man. His subsequent stage and film roles were often similar scoundrels, or else henpecked everyman characters. Among his recognizable trademarks were his raspy drawl and grandiloquent vocabulary.
The characterization he portrayed in films and on radio was so strong it was generally identified with Fields himself. It was maintained by the publicity departments at Fields's studios (Paramount and Universal) and was further established by Robert Lewis Taylor's biography, W.C. Fields, His Follies and Fortunes (1949).
Beginning in 1973, with the publication of Fields's letters, photos, and personal notes in grandson Ronald Fields's book W.C. Fields by Himself, it was shown that Fields was married (and subsequently estranged from his wife), and financially supported their son and loved his grandchildren. Fields married a fellow vaudevillian, chorus girl Harriet "Hattie" Hughes (1879-1963), on April 8, 1900.
She became part of Fields's stage act, appearing as his assistant, whom he would entertainingly blame whenever he missed a trick. Hattie was well educated and tutored Fields in reading and writing during their travels. Fields became an enthusiastic reader and habitually traveled with a trunkful of books that included grammar books, translations of Homer and Ovid, and works by authors ranging from Shakespeare to Dickens to Twain. The couple's son, William Claude Fields, Jr., was born on July 28, 1904.
Although Fields was an avowed atheist—who, according to James Curtis, "regarded all religions with the suspicion of a seasoned con man"—he yielded to Hattie's wish to have their son baptized. By 1907 he and Hattie separated; she had been pressing him to stop touring and settle into a respectable trade, but he was unwilling to give up show business. They never divorced. Until his death, Fields continued to correspond with Hattie and voluntarily sent her a weekly stipend. While performing in New York City at the New Amsterdam Theater in 1916, Fields met Bessie Poole, an established Ziegfeld Follies performer whose beauty and quick wit attracted him, and they began a relationship. With her he had another son, named William Rexford Fields Morris (August 15, 1917 – November 30, 2014).
Neither Fields nor Poole wanted to abandon touring to raise the child, who was placed in foster care with a childless couple of Bessie's acquaintance. Fields's relationship with Poole lasted until 1926. In 1927, he made a negotiated payment to her of $20,000 upon her signing an affidavit declaring that "W. C. Fields is NOT the father of my child". Poole died of complications of alcoholism in October 1928, and Fields contributed to her son's support until he was 19 years of age.
Fields met Carlotta Monti (1907–1993) in 1933, and the two began a sporadic relationship that lasted until his death in 1946. Monti had small roles in two of Fields's films, and in 1971 wrote a biography, W.C. Fields and Me, which was made into a motion picture at Universal Studios in 1976. Fields was listed in the 1940 census as single and living at 2015 DeMille Drive (Cecil B. DeMille lived at 2000, the only other address on the street).
Source, modified: http://wikipedia.org
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