Classic Hollywood #24

W.C. Fields In A Rare Color Photograph Circa 1940

WC Fields color

W.C. Fields or Bill Fields to his friends, was one of the most talented comedians of the first half of the 20th century. He began his show business career in vaudeville as a juggler and worked his way up to top billing in the Ziegfeld Follies for a ten year stretch. From there he went on to become a major film star during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Today, upon viewing his films, many people do not understand why he was considered funny. But I assure you there is a subtle brilliance in Fields’ portrayals of the henpecked husband, disreputable man and misunderstood misanthrope.

One of the more popular, yet apocryphal stories about Fields, was that he had hundreds of bank accounts spread across the country, many under ridiculous pseudonyms such as Otis Criblecoblis; Mahatma Kane Jeeves; Aristotle Hoop; Ludovic Fishpond; Figley E. Whitesides and so on. After Fields died in 1946, his mistress Carlotta Monti claimed that there was over $1.3 million in unclaimed funds in banks under the fake names. An assistant hired to solve the dilemna of Fields estate found only 24 accounts all under Fields real name.

J.P. McEvoy’s profile of Fields in the July 26, 1942 Los Angeles Times revealed some things about Fields and his money:

Bill agrees in part, with Arthur Brisbane, who said that to keep a comic good was to keep him poor. Bill has no intention of becoming poor so that people will think he is funny, but he refuses to let photographers snap him in his big cars or silhouetted against his Hollywood mansion. “People won’t laugh if they think I’m rich,” he says. “They’ll snarl, ‘That so and so. Trying to be funny, eh? I could be funny too if I had all that dough.’ ”

“All that dough” are the words for it, for Bill has been in the big money for years. But he’s never invested, bought a stock, or even owned a house – he’s salted it away in cash and Government bonds. It is reliably reported he had $400,000 cash in the New York Harriman bank in ’29 and got all of it out before it folded in the crash. When he toured the world he banked his salary in every country¬† – and got it all over here before trouble started. “Bill will feed you, clothe you and house you,” says an old pal, “but he won’t lend you a nickel.”

My favorite story about Fields was told by Groucho Marx. In the early 1940’s Groucho visited Fields at his house on DeMille Drive in the Laughlin Park section of Los Angeles.

Fields took Groucho up to the attic where he showed Groucho his stash of liquor. It was literally thousands of cases of assorted booze. Groucho was shocked and said “Bill what do you need all this liquor for? Prohibition is over.”

Fields looked at Groucho and half seriously replied, “Well, it might come back!”

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