Tribute to W.C. Fields

FIELDS, W.C. (1880-1946): One of America's greatest comedians, W.C. Fields was a master mimic whose humor and mock pompousness was accompanied by a unique combination of a nasal drawl, wooden expression, and flawlessly timed gestures. He ad-libbed, or made up as he went along, many of his radio and movie scripts and maintained a cynic's role both on and off the screen. In motion pictures he often played a heavy drinker who detested all children and dogs, wore a top hat and frayed gloves, and carried a walking stick.

Born Claude William Dukenfield on Jan. 29, 1880, in Philadelphia, at age 11 he ran away from home. He began juggling tennis balls, apples, and stones and within three years had a vaudeville juggling act that brought him considerable recognition. From 1915 to 1921 he juggled in the Ziegfeld Follies on New York City's Broadway. In 1923 Fields switched to comic acting on the stage and then in motion pictures, where his years of practice with pantomime made him an overnight success. He moved to Hollywood and wrote, directed, and starred in films. He played the "straight" role of Mr. Micawber in 'David Copperfield' in 1935 and is remembered for 'The Bank Dick' and 'My Little Chickadee' (both 1940) and 'Never Give a Sucker an Even Break' (1941). Fields died in Pasadena, Calif., on Dec. 25, 1946.

Source: Comptonís Interactive Encyclopedia. Copyright © 1994, 1995 Comptonís NewMedia, Inc.

W.C. Fields (left) and Leon Errol (right) play a scene at a carnival shooting gallery in 'Never Give a Sucker an Even Break'.
Museum of Modern Art, Film Stills Archive

W.C. Fields Quotes

I always keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake -- which I also keep handy.

My illness is due to my doctor's insistence that I drink milk, a whittish fluid they force down helpless babies.

Now don't say you can't swear off drinking; it's easy. I've done it a thousand times.

How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil's Brew. I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon--and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter.

Back in my rummy days, I would tremble and shake for hours upon arising. It was the only exercise I got.

Thou shalt not kill anything less than a fifth.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house unless they have a well-stocked bar.

Somebody's been putting pineapple juice in my pineapple juice!

Say, Mr. Fields, I read in the paper where you consumed two quarts of liquor a day. What would your father think about that?
WC: He'd think I was a sissy.

I exercise extreme self control. I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.

I don't believe in dining on an empty stomach.

Say anything that you like about me except that I drink water.

Of course, now I touch nothing stronger than buttermilk: 90-proof buttermilk.

Some weasel took the cork out of my lunch...

I never drank anything stronger than beer before I was twelve.

I seldom took a drink on the set before 9 a.m.

I don't drink water; fish fuck in it.

I certainly do not drink all the time. I have to sleep you know.

Sleep...the most beautiful experience in life--except drink.

The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.

In response to a waiter who'd offered him a Bromo Seltzer for a hangover, Fields said: Ye Gods, no! I couldn't stand the noise.

Airline hostess: Should I get you a bromo?
WC: No. I couldn't stand the noise.

A woman drove me to drink, and I'll be a son-of-a-gun but I never even wrote to thank her.

I've been on a 46-year diet of olives and alcohol. The latter I consume. The former I save and use over again in more alcohol. In my lifetime, I imagine, I have consumed at least $200,000 worth of whisky.

It's a wonderful thing, the D.T.'s. You can travel the world in a couple of hours. You see some mighty funny and curious things that come in assorted colors.

Secretary: Someday you'll drown in a vat of whiskey.
WC (an aside): Drown in a vat of whiskey? Oh death, where is thy sting?

During one of my treks through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. We were compelled to live on food and water for several days.

I feel like a midget with muddy feet had been walking over my tongue all night.

Christmas at my house is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we'll be seeing six or seven.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again. Then give up. There's no use being a damned fool about it.

A man who overindulges lives in a dream. He becomes conceited. He thinks the whole world revolves around him; and it usually does.

Fields' epitaph: All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.

I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally.

A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.

Never cry over spilt milk, because it may have been poisoned.

Never mind what I told you--you do as I tell you.

Don't worry about your heart, it will last you as long as you live.

I can do anything I want to do!

It's what you do that counts and not what you say; therefore I fired my press agent.

Speakin' of the city, it ain't no place for women, gal, but perty men go thar.

I've been barbecued, stewed, screwed, tattooed, and fried by people claiming to be my friends. The human race has gone backward, not forward, since the days we were apes swinging through the trees.

Bloom, damn you! Bloom!

By god, I was born lonely!

Everything I do is either illegal, immoral, or fattening.

What a gorgeous day. What effulgent sunshine. It was a day of this sort the McGillicuddy brothers murdered their mother with an ax.

In the ten years since I had run away from home...I had gone through more strange experiences than the average person crowds into a whole lifetime.

It's hard to tell where Hollywood ends and the D.T.'s begin.

The funniest thing a comedian can do is not do it.

I like my films to influence the audience. Even if it means tripping their aged grandparents with a cane when they get home.

They are the igloos of the theatrical world. Even the managers in those communities never know whether to give their patrons Sarah Bernhardt or trained seals.

In every big city there is always one surefire laugh, and that lies in hanging some piece of idiocy upon the people of a nearby city or town.

Thou shalt not steal--only from other comedians.

My daughter wants to throw a stone at a bad man. I stop her from throwing, shaking my head and giving her a little slap. My disapproval is complete. You think: 'That's right, she shouldn't throw a stone even at a villain.' Then I hand her a brick to throw.

The movie people would have nothing to do with me until they heard me speak in a Broadway play, then they all wanted to sign me for the silent movies.

Hollywood is the gold cap on a tooth that should have been pulled out years ago.

No one likes the fellow who is all rogue, but we'll forgive him almost anything if there is warmth of human sympathy underneath his rogueries. The immortal types of comedy are just such men.

The best thing to break is a contract.

The work I'm doing on the screen differs from that of anyone else. My comedy is of a peculiar writers have been developed along the lines of my type of comedy and this is why I sometimes have differences with writers, supervisors and directors alike.

I was almost put out of business by a well-meaning corpse.

When I want to play with a prick, I'll play with my own.

It's headed for the brambles and we are all in our bare feet.

A comic should suffer as much over a single line as a man with a hernia would in picking up a heavy barbell.

I always made up my own acts; built them out of my knowledge and observation of real life. I'd had wonderful opportunities to study people; and every time I went out on the stage I tried to show the audience some bit of true human nature.

Comedy is a serious business. A serious business with only one purpose--to make people laugh.

Dentists, lawyers, doctors are all a bunch of thieving bastards.

I like thieves. Some of my best friends are thieves. Why, just last week we had the president of the bank over for dinner.

Of one detested doctor, Fields said he was a servant of humanity...who had done really brilliant work in isolating fees.

The only thing a lawyer won't question is the legitimacy of his mother.

There are seven natural openings in the head and body. A lawyer is the only human being with eight. The extra one is a slot to store money in, should his bank be unable to hold all of it.

The income tax was devised to give lawyers and certified public accountants business. Few persons can make head, tail, or middle out of it. Einstein admitted he couldn't.

More people are driven insane through religious hysteria than by drinking alcohol.

To me, these biblical stories are just so many fish stories, and I'm not specifically referring to Jonah and the whale. I need indisputable proof of anything I'm asked to believe.

If I ever found a church that didn't believe in knocking all the other churches, I might consider joining it.

I think of the church often. Not because religion was closing in on me, but because for a long time my ass was sore from that hard, unupholstered pew.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain unless you've used up all the other four-letter words.

I admit I scanned it once, searching for some movie plots... (but found) only a pack of wild lies.

I never vote for anyone. I always vote against.

Sex isn't necessary. You don't die without it--but you can die having it.

I'd rather have two girls at 21 each than one girl at 42.

The low-ceiling price bazaar for sexual relief was a street called Middie Alley. You could barely get a pushcart through this avenue. Top price--twenty-five cents.

I had this Melanesian belle, a comely looking lass, and I was headed for the shrubbery, which grows very lush in those parts. Well, her husband was following behind holding a forefinger up in the air and crying, 'One dollah, one dollah!'

Lady: I tell you I'm sitting on something. Something's under me. What is it?
WC: Ah, a pussy.

I have some very definite pear-shaped ideas that I'd like to discuss with thee.

He secured a position on an ice wagon/Where his collateral was soon frozen...

No doubt exists that all women are crazy, it's only a question of degree.

Women are like elephants to me. I like to look at 'em, but I wouldn't want to own one.

Marry an outdoors woman. Then if you throw her out into the yard for the night, she can still survive.

Marriage is better than leprosy because it's easier to get rid of.

Ah yes, she's a fine figure of a woman, isn't she? A handsome lass if there ever was one--and exceptionally well-preserved too.

All the men in my family were bearded, and most of the women.

Asked if he believed in clubs for women, Fields responded:
Yes, if every other form of persuasion fails.

Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's wife unless she's a beauty.

I was married once -- in San Francisco. I haven't seen her for many years. The great earthquake and fire in 1906 destroyed the marriage certificate. There's no legal proof. Which proves that earthquakes aren't all bad.

Question: Do married people live longer?
Fields: No, it just seems longer.

I believe in tying the marriage knot, as long as it's around the woman's neck.

A thing worth having is a thing worth cheating for.

Business is an establishment that gives you the legal, even though unethical, right to screw the naive--right, left, and in the middle.

They never got me for the right offense.

I could only teach him how to juggle his books.

I could juggle anything in my day. Balls, cigar boxes, knives...But there was one thing I could never juggle. My income tax.

I could be stranded in any town in the United States with ten cents and within an hour make $20 with the shell game.

[Charles Dickens was] the bravest man who ever lived. He fathered ten children before they became tax deductions.

I write my scripts short and they develop on the set, which I have found a far better premise both economically and practically.

I ad lib most of my dialogue. If I did remember my lines, it would be too bad for me.

Why those guys won't let me do anything. They find double meaning in commas and semicolons in my scripts.

Madam, there's no such thing as a tough child -- if you parboil them first for seven hours, they always come out tender.

There is not a man in America who has not had a secret ambition to boot an infant.

I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally.

Liberty and Freedom and Worship---there is a super-abundance of all three in this U.S.A under the law. The only people who are not being meted out full portions are the colored folks.

Secretary: It must be hard to lose your mother-in-law.
WC:Yes it is, very hard. It's almost impossible.

Sucker: Is this a game of chance?
WC: Not the way I play it, no.

Hangman: Have you any last wish?
WC: Yes, I'd like to see Paris before I die. (pause) Philadelphia will do.

WC: Was I in here last night and did I spend a 20-dollar bill?
Barkeep: Yeah.
WC: Oh boy, what a load that is off my mind. I thought I'd lost it.

Customer: What have you in the way of steaks?
WC: (I have) nothing in the way of steaks. I can get right to them.

WC (to waitress): I didn't squawk about the steak, dear. I merely said I didn't see that old horse that used to be tethered outside here.

WC: You know, if anyone ever comes in here and gives you a $10 tip, scrutinize it carefully; there's a lot of counterfeit money going around.
Waitress: If I get any counterfeit nickels or pennies, I'll know where they came from.

Lady: Are you really a man?
WC: Well, I've been called other things.

Wife: Why don't you go to bed?
WC: I thought I'd take a nap first.

Man (to WC): You're drunk!
WC: Yeah, and you're crazy. And I'll be sober tomorrow and you'll be crazy for the rest of your life.

Man: Do you know anything about electricity?
WC: My father occupied the chair of applied electricity at state prison.

Girl: The only game I ever played was beanbag.
WC: Beanbag? Ah, very good; it becomes very exciting at times. I saw the championship played in Paris. Many people were killed.

Man: I have no sympathy for a man who is intoxicated all the time.
WC: A man who's intoxicated all the time doesn't need sympathy.

There comes a time in the affairs of a man when he has to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.

Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.

Never give a sucker an even break.

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