August 22 is the anniversary of the release date of the classic W.C. Fields short The Golf Specialist (1930).
The Golf Specialist was Fields’ first talking film, and the provenance of it is most fascinating. Fields had several stage routines that he developed for the stage and screen that were based around gaming. The Ur-routine was his pool sketch, which he first developed for vaudeville, and presented in his first film Pool Sharks in 1915 (and reprised in many a subsequent film.) He also had a croquet routine and staged bits around card games, tennis, and baseball.
The physical part of the golf routine dates to his second silent film His Lordship’s Dilemma (1915), but the spoken parts, all the lines and characters were presented as the sketch “An Episode on the Links” in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1918. The text of that sketch survives; it proves to be the basis of the film almost in its entirety. (One major change to be regretted. Field’s valet and comedy partner, a dwarf named Shorty originally played the caddie. Shorty’s death was a huge blow to Fields — and, I, can only imagine, a great loss to comedy fans). Fields went on to reprise the golf bit in another silent So’s Your Old Man (1926) and its 1934 remake You’re Telling Me (1934), and there are also golf scenes in The Dentist (1932), and The Big Broadcast of 1938.
To learn more about slapstick film history and the movies of W.C. Fields please check out 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