W.C. Fields Will Gave The Bulk Of His Estate To Establish A College For White Orphans

W.C. Fields Died On A Day He Pretended To Despise, Christmas Day 1946

When His Will Was Read, It Had A Peculiar Racial Provision In It

WC Fields full face and portraitsMovie star comedian W.C. Fields is not well remembered by today’s generation, his cerebral brilliance generally going unappreciated or unrecognized. But those who know comedy such as Monty Python’s John Cleese said of Fields, “At a time when political correctness often stifles honesty and impulse to laugh and genuine wit is in such short supply, I think nothing could be healthier than the re-discovery of this most original, perceptive and unrepentant of comedians.”

When Fields died 68 years ago today on December 25, 1946, his will provided small amounts for family members and friends with the $800,000 remainder of his estate being left to establish “The W. C. Fields College for White Orphan Boys and Girls Where No Religion of Any Kind is Ever to be Taught.”

This strange racial provision seemed completely out of character for a man who treated blacks as equals and stood up for racial equality long before it was popular.  It was at W.C. Fields insistence that his Zigfield Follies friend, the great black vaudeville star Bert Williams, be allowed to join Actor’s Equity. Williams was finally admitted to the association. Fields said Williams was, “The funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever knew.”

So why would Fields put this exclusionary provision in his will?

Fields was a practical, non-religious man and the second paragraph of his will read, “I direct my executors immediately upon the certificate of my death being signed to have my body placed in an inexpensive coffin and taken to a cemetery and cremated, and since I do not wish to cause my friends undue inconvenience or expense I direct my executors not to have any funeral or other ceremony or to permit anyone to view my remains, except as is necessary to furnish satisfactory proof of my death.”

Then out of nowhere and on a complete whim, he directed his orphan college be established for white’s only.

There are two theories to why Fields struck out ‘…and colored’ from his will which was originally in it.

According to the web site The Straight Dope supposedly Fields had read that the Pullman Porters Union formally voted to exclude whites, so Fields said “If they’re going to discriminate against us, I’m going to discriminate against them.”

The other possible reason comes from Robert Lewis Taylor’s biography W.C. Fields His Follies and Fortunes (1949) Doubleday; good friend and writer Gene Fowler who recalled that some time before his death Fields had intended the orphanage be for colored children as well. His decision to switch was caused by the insolence, or imagined insolence, of a black servant he employed. During his lifetime, Fields’ affections for races and sects veered sharply from day to day. In general, however, he bore all groups the same considered animosity. And from start to finish it was entirely superficial. Even after his change of heart about the orphans, he paid off a $4,000 mortgage on the house of his black cook, and he once ordered from his premises a man who used the word “nigger” within earshot of his staff.

After Fields died he had three funerals including a Catholic ceremony and ended up not being cremated but interred at Forrest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA. It wasn’t until 1949 that his body was cremated.

According to James Curtis’ biography W.C. Fields (2003) Alfred A. Knopf; Fields family successfully challenged the will. On December 14, 1949, Judge McKay threw out the provision of the will that established a college for orphans. “Mr. Fields, in his lifetime, could have discriminated against other races,” he said, “but he cannot in death call upon the state to undertake the administration of his affairs and supervise a corporation which overrides the constitutionality of equality of rights common to all races.”

A few months later Judge McKay ordered $100,000 paid to Hattie (Fields’ wife), $3,850 to Carlotta Monti (his mistress), $11,550 to Walter (his brother), and $9,240 to Adele (his sister). Federal taxes of $186,000 were paid by the estate, as was $20,000 to California inheritance taxes. On December 29, 1950, a compromise agreement was announced with the clause establishing the orphans’ college was reinstated but limited to $25,000 to go directly to the support of orphan white boys and girls “in some college in Los Angeles County” upon the deaths of Walter, Adele, and Carlotta.

Hattie Fields, his estranged wife, was the big winner and in 1954 ended up with $300,000 from the estate.

20 thoughts on “W.C. Fields Will Gave The Bulk Of His Estate To Establish A College For White Orphans

  1. Anita Kay

    Omg! Who cares. A person can leave anything he/she wants in one’s will. Why are people concerned about WC Fields Will. Lordy, get a life. I’m a 70 year old black woman and I liked W C’s comedy. Let the man rest in peace.. It’s a will and all wills should be honored. Case closed!!!

  2. Sam

    I’m a 56 year old black man who doesn’t care about the clause in Mr Fields will… He was a brilliant comedian who should be respected and recognized for his contributions to his craft…

    I personally don’t know any perfect human beings.. I’ll start worrying about his character flaws after I find a way of fix all mine.

    1. Tee

      This isn’t just a “flaw,” this is him leaving an almost one million dollar endowment to a place that was racist.

      & if you are Black, you have plenty of brilliant BLACK comedians to respect than this dude.

    2. STEVIE

      I’m a ‘going-to-be’ 67 year old American woman who doesn’t care about the color of peoples skin, in the summer you tan – in the winter you chill … W.C. Fields had an incredible vocabulary that baffled most folks and that added the roar of all audiences watching him interact with other screen members, ie Mae West. It brought joy to people just as Morgan Freeman’s author-induced vocabulary in the movie “The Magic of Belle Isle”. Grow up people, stop screaming racist at every turn, shut up and listen, we’re all asking for the same blessings. We’re fighting a Spiritual War and we know the ending to the movie but you can only be saved if you knock off this constant bickering, quit taking yourselves so serious and just laugh, laugh and laugh again because it is healthier than 5 miles on your silly treadmill! Amen Sam!!

  3. Gregory Lynn Patterson

    Come on. Give it a rest. Anyone who ever studied the man would know that he was very complicated and very impulsive. A man of contradictions . He would many times do things to be contrary. He was not a racist and certainly not a racist to be applied to 2020 sensitivities. Didn’t you read the other contradictions that support that he was colorblind? There is more to this story and we probably will never know the answer. Just acknowledge that he was a comic genius.

    1. jm

      Come on, relax. If folks have questions about this clause then they should question it. No big deal as to why folks want to know what was behind Mr. Field’s decision to write this clause.

  4. joe

    Absolutely disgusting how viciously racist American judges are against Whites. Even when it comes to abandoned White children. You have to really hate a race to decide against it’s helpless children. The whole judicial branch needs to be cleansed.

      1. Emma

        You obviously haven’t seen all the tv commercials with black children and adults. My husband took a test for a police job and came in number one in his class and it was given to a black man because they had to have one. That is unfair when the one person who scored the highest is denied a job and just given to a person of color. If this was a black person, it would have made the news and the ACLU would have been all over this. So the world now is not catered to whites, if anything we are now the minority.

  5. James

    If someone wanted to start a school for orphaned black children or Asian children or, Latino children nobody blinks an eye, but because its white children (Oh My God ! Racism!) everyone gets their panties in a twist.
    There is nothing wrong with what Mr. Fields did. It was a kind and noble gesture to his fellow race that he had a desire to help.
    Reverse racism against white people.

    1. Tee

      riiiiight. because Hwhite people don’t STILL protest the need for HBCUs and NAACP & other things for Black people. LOL.

      Reverse racism isn’t real, eejit. & I know it’s hard, but try not to be delusional.

    2. Emma

      Amen to that. There are Black TV Stations (BET) and black colleges and schools so enough with what racism is already. Our government tries to put a wedge between us and I am sick and tired of hearing about it as people are who they are and you can’t change them. But it was his will and he had the right to do as he pleased. it was a different time in our world then so get over it for those who think it was horrible what he did. And he gave the reason….he believed the Pullman union voted to keep whites out. So no one is perfect and everyone has a bit of racism in their lives but will never be vocal about it or do anything to hurt someone but to deny no one has none I would doubt that. It’s enough we have to have our own government divide us, it’s worse if we let them.

  6. Larry Gross

    Too often we expect historical people to be completely contemporary in their sensibilities and not reflect their times. Some day, anyone whoever visited a zoo or put a pet on a leash may be looked down upon for their insensitive attitude toward animals. I’m sure Fields many times showed that he wasn’t a bigot, but he was also the world’s greatest curmudgeon. I would expect him to be sometimes racist, sometimes sexist, etc. We know he said horrible things about children, and what about his stipulation in his will regarding religion! We seem to want sanitized curmudgeons and misanthropes who are only offensive in endearing ways. Well, Fields was no Disney grouch. I’ll take his comic genius anytime, understanding that I also have to take his flaws as well. I love the film The Bank Dick, but I always cringe at the cheap laugh Fields gets when, while standing in line at the bank, he turns around and does a ridiculous take upon seeing a black man standing behind him.

    1. Michael Plummer

      yes when he said there was a “ ubangi in the fuel supply we all knew that meant N&$$(; in the woodpile it was all good clean fun back then the colored people were happy and didnt know any better

  7. Tony Kaye

    WC Fields also stipulated in his will section 16 clause C ” I wish to disinherit anyone who in any way tries to confuse,or break this will.” So by contesting his will the benefactors could lose everything.


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