Carlotta Monti: The “Me” in “W.C. Fields and Me”

I see differing dates for the birthday of Carlotta Monti (Carlotta Montijo, 1907-1993); some give January 20, some the 25th. It makes me no never mind. The fact that today is the 25th is what prompts this post.

Monti is almost exclusively known to the world as the sometime live-in companion of W.C. Fields’ last fourteen years, and the author of the bestselling W.C. Fields and Me (1971), which was later made into the well-known 1976 film. Monti is an extra in that film, by the way. It was her last film appearance, but far from her first. One of her earliest appearances was in In Old California (1929), a bit of typecasting, for the dark beauty was of local Los Angeles Mexican stock. She met Fields when she appeared with him in publicity photos for International House (1932), though she was not in the movie. (For the photos she was dressed in a silk robe as a “Chinese” girl).  In short order, she was to become his live-in secretary, assistant and mistress, and as time went on, something more like a nurse. Like that of Groucho with Erin Fleming, the relationship will always be ambiguous and a little mysterious. Her own account in her book is probably not to be relied upon 100%. Still, show business makes strange bedfellows, and human beings are complex. Devotion, self-sacrifice AND opportunism can and do live side by side within the same person. So, while Fields did give her small roles in The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), in return she gave a good part of her life (and more which is better to left to the imagination) to an ailing, alcoholic, and controlling old man.

Monti had some parts outside the Fields universe. She’s in Bonnie Scotland (1935) with Laurel and Hardy, as well as King Kong (1933), Tarzan the Fearless (1933), Boom Town (1940), and The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940) among other things. After Fields, passed she worked as an extra in such films as He Walked By Night (1948), The Doctor and the Girl (1949), Crisis (1950) and To Please a Lady (1950). She also aspired to a singing career, although it was frowned upon by Uncle Bill, and she never got very far with it. At any rate, proceeds from her book and the ensuring film no doubt made her last couple of decades more comfortable than they might have been. And being played by Valerie Perrine, not too shabby either!

To find out about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on film comedy, read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube. W.C. Fields figures heavily in both!