A Century of W. C. Fields

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of W. C. Fields making his motion-picture debut, and TCM is celebrating tonight by airing four of his pictures.

The fun begins at 8 p.m. ET with The Bank Dick (1940), followed at 9:30 p.m. by It’s a Gift (1934), You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man at 11 p.m. and at 12:30 a.m., David Copperfield (1935), in which Fields plays Wilkins Micawber, a role that was initially earmarked for Charles Laughton.

W. C. Fields quote

Times Square Tintypes: Patrick Cain

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles Patrick “Patsy” Cain, a man who made a living storing the scenery from closed Broadway shows.


An author spends months writing a play. A producer stakes everything on it. Days and nights of weary rehearsals with stars sweating. The play opens. Evening dress and silk hats. Speculators selling tickets on the sidewalk. Everybody is so happy. A few months later a truck backs up at the stage door. The path of glory leads but to Cain’s.
Caricature of Patrick CainPATRICK CAIN is the owner of that theatrical storehouse. Everybody calls him Patsy.
He attended P. S. 32. Bows his head shamefully when admitting that he didn’t have the honor of receiving a diploma.
His father, John J. Cain, a former policeman, started the trucking business forty-two years ago. He used to help his father just for the ride.
Seldom goes to an opening night. Producers, considering him a jinx, shoo him away. He has attended more closing nights than any other man in the world.
Has a broken nose. This he received in his youth during a block fight.
His warehouse is located at 530 West Forty-first Street. Directly opposite is an old brewery with a statue of a fallen man holding a schooner of beer. He seems to be saying to those show entering their final resting place: “Here’s to Better Days.”
Is happily married and the proud possessor of four children. Has his own home in Flushing. It was built especially for him by a stage carpenter.
He doesn’t drink, smoke or use profane language.
Rarely eat in restaurants. Has breakfast and dinner at home. Has lunch at his sister’s, who lives two blocks from his place of business.
The storehouse consists of five stories and a basement.
The fifth floor is for the shows of Aarons and Freedley, Schwab and Mandel, Gene Buck and the personal belongings of W. C. Fields and Laurette Taylor. The fourth floor holds the last remains of Florenz Ziegfeld‘s Follies and George White‘s Scandals. Their mighty efforts for supremacy rest in peace. The third floor is for Sam H. Harris, Douglas Fairbanks, A. L. Erlanger and the Paramount Theatre. The second floor is occupied by Richard Herndon and others. The basement is for the canvas “drops.” They are rolled neatly and lie row on row. Their tombstone is an identification tag on which is scrawled in pencil: “Garden Drop—Follies—1917.”
He drinks two chocolate ice cream sodas every day. On Sunday evenings he takes the entire family to the neighborhood drug store and treats them to sodas.
Employs only four men—a night watchman, a day watchman, a bookkeeper and a superintendent. He hasn’t a secretary. But the superintendent, attired in greasy overalls, takes great pride in referring to himself as “Patsy’s typewriter.”
He hires his help by the day. Employs exactly the number he needs for that day’s work. While on a job if the men eat before three o’clock they must pay for the meal. If they eat after three he must. Every day he phones his men at exactly one o’clock and says: “Boys, I think you ought to knock off now and get yourselves a bite to eat.”
He has eight gold teeth in his mouth. They make him look dignified.
Reads only two things. They are the dramatic reviews and the cartoons in the New Yorker.
Has the same amount of strength in his right hand as in his left. He can write just as unintelligibly with both.

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Times Square Tintypes: Ring Lardner

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles sportswriter, author, and playwright Ring Lardner.


RING LARDNER. He came to New York to do nothing and has been a failure ever since. Was born in Niles, Mich. The great event took place forty-six years ago. Always looks seven years younger than he really is.
Caricature of Ring LardnerHe bites his tongue while writing.
Elmer the Great was his first play. While it was current he made his friends call him “Fanny.”
In the way of drinks his taste runs to any glass that is filled with anything but champagne. Champagne makes him nauseous.
As a newspaper man he worked in crowded offices with people talking and writing all around him. Today he can’t even begin to work if there is anybody else in the room.
He has never murdered anybody. If he does you can lay two to one that the party will be the author of a poem, story or play that is the least bit whimsical.
Occasionally he spends an entire day in a restaurant.
Was once paid five hundred dollars by a pottery concern to make a speech at their annual convention.
His first magazine story was about ball players. He sent it to the Saturday Evening Post. Not only did they buy the story but they encouraged him to write the now famous “You Know Me Al” yarns.
He’d rather be alone than with anybody excepting four or five people. He believes this is mutual.
Was among those who were the guests of Albert D. Lasker on the Leviathan‘s trial trip. While he was on the boat, he never saw the ocean.
Whenever he wants to laugh he goes to see Will Rogers, Ed Wynn, W. C. Fields, Jack Donahue, Harry Watson and Beatrice Lillie. If it is acting that he desires to see he hurries to a play with Alfred Lunt, Walter Huston, Lynn Fontanne or Helen Hayes. Otherwise he attends the opera.
He has flat feet.
Doesn’t care for parties. Unless he is giving them. Because then he can order as often as he likes.
Was fired from the Boston American in 1911. Went back to Chicago, his favorite shooting gallery, and asked the Chicago American for a job. The managing editor inquired: “What was the matter in Boston?” He replied: “Oh, nothing; except that I was fired.” The managing editor said: “That’s the best recommendation you could have. Go to work.”
Is the author of the following books: The Love Nest, What of It? How to Write Short Stories, Gullible’s Travels, The Big Town and a modest autobiography titled: The Story of a Wonder Man.
He can play the piano, the saxophone, the clarinet and the cornet. But not so good.
Has what is called “perfect pitch.” That is, he can tell which key anyone is singing or playing in without looking or asking. Once won $2 at this stunt. It really isn’t an accomplishment he can live on.
He is a passionate collector of passport pictures and license photographs of taxi drivers.
Among the things that annoy him are writing letters, answering the telephone, signing checks, attending banquets, untying the knot in h is shoelace, filling his fountain pen and trying to find handkerchiefs to match his neckwear.
Before he dies he hopes to write a successful novel. Believe he is going to live to a ripe old age.
Begins his stories with just a character in mind. Hardly ever knows what the plot is going to be until two-thirds through with the story.
He dislikes work (except the writing of lyrics), scenes like the Victor Herbert thing in the 1928 Scandals, insomnia, derby hats, beauty marks, motion pictures (excepting those Chaplin is in), dirty stories and adverse criticism—whether fair or not.
The W is for Wilmer.
He was standing at a bar in New Orleans during Mardi Gras time three years ago and a Southern gentleman tried to entertain him by telling how old and Southern and aristocratic his family was. Lardner interrupted the Southerner after twenty minutes of it with the remark that he was born in Michigan of colored parentage.
Recently he offered a cigarette concern this advertising slogan: “Not a Cigarette in a Carload.” They didn’t accept it.
He is noted for sending funny telegrams. One of the most famous is the one he sent when he was unable to attend a dinner. It read: “Sorry cannot be with you tonight, but it is the children’s night out and I must stay home with the maid.”

Times Square Tintypes: W. C. Fields

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles star of vaudeville, Broadway and the silver screen, W. C. Fields.


W. C. FIELDS. His real name is s.
Caricature of W. C. FieldsHe can’t rehearse his part in a play or picture without holding a cane in his hand.
His auto bears a California license plate merely because he likes the color of it.
Started his theatrical career as a juggler. At the enormous salary of $5 a week. Out of this he had to pay an agent a dollar and a half commission fee. His latest salary was $5,500 weekly as the star of the Earl Carroll Vanities. The agent’s making more also.
He wears snake-skin shoes. Never wears garters. Calls his socks, “droopies.”
Is an excellent caricaturist and could probably earn a living by drawing if he so desired.
Good comedy, he believes, is merely a matter of instinct.
He traveled around the world twice. Once making the westward passage. The other time the eastern passage. To him one of life’s little mysteries is why they lost or gained a day on the way around.
Wears silk underwear and sleeps in it. Sleeps lying flat on his belly with the pillow against his chest.
One of his first jobs in the theater was in a beer garden, the Fortesque Pavilion, Atlantic City. His task was to go in swimming and cry for help. Then two actors would rush to his aid, carry him back to the beer garden and revive him on the stage there. While this revival act was going on the waiters would sell beers to the crowd that had followed the drowning man to the pavilion.
Washes himself with black tar soap. Perfumes his bath with pine needles.
Is always juggling things by force of habit. Has six lemons on his bureau at home. When alone he amuses himself by juggling them.
Thinks the best French food is served in England. The best German food in America. And as far as American food is concerned he’d rather eat tall grass.
His nickname is “Pokey.”
He ran away from home at the age of eleven and became a hobo.
During his hobo career he was regarded as a Beau Brummell, because he washed once a day.
He made the longest jump on record. Jumped from Freemantle, Australia, traveling thirty-eight days and thirty-eight nights, to play a one-night stand in Syracuse, N. Y.
His two favorite expressions, which he made popular, are: “It ain’t a fit night for man nor beast” and “Never give a sucker an even break.”
He has a face that caricaturists love.
The thing that annoys him most in life is a radio. When entering a house that has one, he politely requests that it be turned off. He owns two radios. Has one in his dressing room. The other at home. They are to amuse his guests when he isn’t present.
He once passed the night in an Egyptian pyramid.
Recently he received a letter from the United States Government about his income tax. He had overpaid it at $1,250.
He eats only one meal a day. Never has breakfast or lunch. Only dinner. Occasionally, however, after the theater, he will have cheese, crackers and beer.
No matter how hard he tries he can’t raise a mustache. Has over a hundred false mustaches as part of his theatrical makeup. He wears the mustache, not on his lip, but on the tip of his nose. Thy have a trick clasp.
His favorite actor is Mussolini.
Among the things that burn him up and leave him cold are mustard, folks who get plastered on one highball, picnics, hand-embroidered handkerchiefs, chorus girls with curls, “Mammy” singers with Jewish accents and a pair of tight pants.
He played the stock market once. Then he bought five shares of stock on a tip. Almost went into a panic the next day when he couldn’t find the stock listed.
He once saved his life by juggling before a wild tribe in Africa.
He never smokes. Except when rehearsing a show or making a picture. Then he is an inveterate smoker, lighting one cigarette with the butt of another.
Like John Held, Jr., his library is in his bathroom.
While in Hollywood making pictures he received a broken neck. Today he can only turn his neck halfway to the left. He can, however, make a complete right turn.
He is the possessor of a Phi Beta Kappa key which he found.