Arthur Fields: Monkeys and Mountaineers

What a drag it must have been to be a Tin Pan Alley songwriter named Arthur Fields yet to bear no relation to Lew, Herbert or Dorothy. When Abraham Finkelstein (1884-1953) too the name early in the century it probably didn’t seem so fraught. In later decades he must have gotten “Are you related to –?” everywhere he went.

At any rate, this performing Fields was born in Philly and grew up in Utica. He toured with Guy Brothers’ Minstrel Show starting around 1908, and was in a vaudeville act called Weston, Fields and Carroll, along with Harry Carroll, with whom he was to co-write some of his early songs like “On the Mississippi” (1912).

His best known song is probably “Aba Daba Honeymoon” (1914), for which he wrote the lyrics. Ruth Roye had a hit with it at the Palace when she introduced it there. Collins and Harlan had a hit record with in 1914. Debbie Reynolds sang it in the 1950 film Two Weeks With Love. It went all the way to #3 on the Billboard pop chart in 1951. The first place I ever heard the tune was on Laverne and Shirley in the mid ’70s (thanks, Scott Stiffler, for arriving me about that historic event!)

In 1914 Fields became a recording artist himself. He is equally well known for singing songs written by others, like George M. Cohan’s “Over There”, and Irving Berlin’s “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning”. His own World War One song “Hunting the Hun” was also popular. For a time he was in a singing trio with Irving Kaufman and his brother Jack.

In 1929 he teamed with Fred Hall to create a big band that adapted folk music. Soon thereafter, they stripped it down and turned into a genuine hillbilly outfit called Rex Cole’s Mountaineers. (Rex Cole, a fridge manufacturer, was their sponsor). They had their own radio show from 1930 through 1933, which featured parodies and playful fun with rural stereotypes in addition to their musical selections. In 1946, Fields moved to Florida where he continued to work at a local radio station for a time. Seven years later he was felled by a stroke and then was burned in a fire at the nursing home where he was residing.

To learn more about vaudeville, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,