Today marks the anniversary of W.C. Fields’ debut in the Ziegfeld Follies, one of many major stepping stones of his career.
Broadway revues were the customary career rung between vaudeville and Broadway book musicals, with greater money, better working conditions, more prestige, and opportunity to shine. Other comedians who went this route included Ed Wynn, Bert Williams, Fanny Brice, Leon Errol, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, and Ray Dooley. Fields worked with them all in the Follies. How I wish I could go back in time and watch those shows!
Fields had made his name as a juggler in vaudeville (albeit a funny one, and possibly the best on the planet). When he got to the Follies, he picked up the ball and ran with it. He wrote and starred in countless comedy sketches which later became the basis of all his comedy film shorts and numerous routines in his features. (Pool routine, golf routine, dentist routine, etc etc etc).
June 21, 1915 did NOT mark his Broadway debut however, as is often claimed. He had earlier appeared in the McIntyre and Heath show The Ham Tree in 1905, where he spoke some of his first dramatic lines as one “Sherlock Baffles.” And he also had a routine in the 1914 Charles Dillingham revue Watch Your Step, although his part was cut after a single performance. It was with the Follies, though Fields would cross over…would become the W.C. Fields we all know and love to this day. More on his subsequent Broadway career in his post.
For more on show business history, including the vaudeville career of W.C. Fields, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
Mr. Wertheim was at the event we attended last night. Here’s the account: https://travsd.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/w-c-fields-centennial-celebration-at-the-new-amsterdam/
For folks wanting the best biogrphy of Fields, I suggest the most detailed: W. C. Fields from Burlesque and Vaudeville to Broadway: Becoming a Comedian. The author, Arthur Frank Wertheim is one of the worthiest and most respected showbiz biographers writing today. This book tells the first half of Fiuelds life. A second is in the works,. covering W. C.’s ascent into the Follies and films.
We plugged it when it was released. $90 is rather steep, but probably worth it for the die hard Fields fan. Here’s my earlier post: https://travsd.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/w-c-fields-from-burlesque-and-vaudeville-to-broadway/