Kathleen Howard: Figaro, Fashion and Foil to Fields

Comedy fans know and love Kathleen Howard (1884-1956) from her roles as shrewish women (two of them wives) in three of W.C. Fields’ best comedy features: It’s a Gift (1934), You’re Telling Me (1934), and Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935). Her background will surprise no one familiar with Howard’s posh, affected personality. She was an opera singer! Originally from Canada, she began her professional career in Berlin 1906, and performed in halls across Europe for several years. She sang with the Metropolitan Opera from 1916 through 1918. Then — a major career shift. For several years, she was fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and president of Fashion Group International.

She was 50 years old when she broke into movies as Prince Maria in Death Takes a Holiday (1934). And then the Fields films, and fifty others, including One Night in the Topics (1940) with Abbott and Costello et al; Ball of Fire (1941); Laura (1944); and Curley (1947). Her last film was Born to Be Bad (1950).

For more on classic comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.