William Claude Dukenfield (January 29, 1880 – 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 colorful 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 died in 1946, from an alcohol-related stomach hemorrhage, on the holiday he claimed to despise: Christmas Day. He died at Las Encinas Sanatorium, Pasadena, California, a bungalow-type sanitarium. According to Carlotta Monti's memoir published in 1971, as he lay in bed dying, she went outside and turned the hose onto the roof, to allow Fields to hear for one last time his favorite sound—falling rain. According to the documentary W.C. Fields Straight Up, his death occurred in this way: he winked and smiled at a nurse, put a finger to his lips, and died. Fields's biographer James Curtis says this story is unlikely, and is uncorroborated by the obituary in the Pasadena Star-News and its sources in the hospital. Fields was 66, and had been a patient for 22 months. His funeral took place on January 2, 1947, in Glendale, California.
Fields's will, written in 1943, directed that he be cremated immediately upon death, but this order was delayed when Hattie and Claude Fields objected on religious grounds. They were successful in contesting another clause in Fields's will that left a portion of his estate to establish a "W. C. Fields College for Orphan White Boys and Girls, where no religion of any sort is to be preached". After litigation concerning this and other provisions of the will, Fields was cremated on June 2, 1949, and his ashes interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale.
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