( United States: 1880-1946)
Carl Bryan Holmberg
One of the most celebrated icons of the silver screen with his cocky top hat, bulbous nose, and pained expression, bibulous W. C. Fields also starred on stage, penned newspaper cartoons, and performed on radio as well as in film. Known for his mumbling jabs and sight gags, Fields is perhaps best remembered as the loser who kept succeeding despite himself, Egbert Souse (pronounced soo'-say) in The Bank Dick ( 1940).
Fields was born in Philadelphia, probably on January 29, 1880, and promptly was named William Claude Dukenfield. The date is debated and may have been in 1879, but no records were kept (Deschner 19). The first of five children, the lad showed little interest in the family produce business, except for juggling the current stock as a sales gimmick, and struck off by himself at eleven. Sometimes relying upon his grandmother, Fields variously became a pool shark and street rogue, supporting himself with periodic stints as a juggler at local, often church, events. By his midteens, he began to open as a juggler for vaudeville shows and eventually joined a burlesque troupe and traveled the eastern United States on tour, then calling himself "W. C. Fields."
From the early 1900s, Fields's popularity grew nationally and internationally. He fetched an increasingly sizable weekly salary, and through his various theatrical runs with the Ziegfeld Follies and others, he was a top money earner after numerous tours overseas. Florenz Ziegfeld was what was then known as a "showman," and he wanted to give thrills to his audience. Thus he once decided
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Publication information: Book title: Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History:A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Contributors: Vicki K. Janik - Editor, Emmanuel S. Nelson - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 194.
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