I first got turned on to the brilliance of Sidney Fields by a friend, when he screened for me many episodes of the short-lived Abbott and Costello tv series several years ago. This odd little show is vastly superior to any of the team’s movies, and one of the major reasons for that is Fields’ work as comic foil, generally playing the irate landlord (cue the slow burn) but also many other costumed characters. This short day in the sun was kind of the pinnacle of Fields’ career, but he has many other great credits — which is no doubt the reason he is so sharp and funny and professional on the Abbott and Costello Show.
Born on this day in 1898, he started out with medicine shows and carnivals in his native Wisconsin, gradually working his way up to small time vaudeville and burlesque. By the time he got to the top ranks, vaudeville was gone, but he made good with Minsky’s until the crackdown in New York in the late 30s. From here he went to being a gagwriter and bit player in radio and films, working with the likes of Eddie Cantor and the Ritz Brothers, and briefly teaming up with Ben Blue. Abbott and Costello began putting him in some of their films in the mid 1940s. After the tv series folded in the early 50s, he worked with the Great One, Mr. Jackie Gleason for a time before moving to Las Vegas. He passed away in 1975
To learn more about the roots of variety entertainment, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc