W. C. Fields : his follies and fortunes (1949)

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W . C. Fields Fields' mother, the former Miss Felton, was a hard-working housewife with an exceptional measure of native shrewdness. Her family for some generations had been occupied in the hauling line. From her, Fields borrowed much of his vigilance as well as the muttered asides that were later to convulse audiences. Mrs. Dukinfield had a habit of standing in her doorway and con- versing with passers-by, meanwhile damning them in asides to her family. After the people had gone, she would mimic them with great comic skill. Fields studied these monologues. Years later, when he was starring in the stage play Poppy, he invited her to New York and established her in a box at the theater. "How'd you like my work, Mother?" he asked in his dressing room following the final curtain. Her answer was, "I didn't know you had such a good memory." Fields always said that he seldom knew whether his mother was being naive or cute. Once, not long after he had brought her to see Poppy he was telling her about his travels among various aborigines, and he said of one tribe, "They invited me to dinner—a very excellent repast, start- ing off with whale." "Goodness!" exclaimed Mrs. Dukinfield. "I should think that would make a meal in itself." Mrs. Dukinfield and her husband addressed their son as "Claude," a name he was unable to stomach throughout his life. He was continually trying to use the name Claude for villainous characters in his plays and movies. As a boy, he preferred to be known as "Whitey," a nickname the children of the neighbor- hood gave him in recognition of his pale blond hair. Fields once petitioned his father to forget Claude and have the name changed legally to Whitey, but he received a moderate beating for his pains. In the ten years following his birth, the Dukinfields had two additional sons, Le Roy and Walter, and two daughters, Elsie Mae and Adele. From time to time, in his movies, Fields was to 10