Fay Adler: Fascinating Fieldsian Footnote

Just a few words today about Fay Adler(1907-1986), best known and remembered today for the minor role she played in the life and career of W.C. Fields.

Adler was a native of San Bernadino, California who’d studied dance at Marge Champion’s dad Ernest Belcher’s Los Angeles academy (its successor school still exists as the Westmore Dance Studio.). While there, she met Ted Bradford, with whom she formed the vaudeville dance team “The Butterly and the Spider”. Adler was only about five feet tall; Bradford was much larger — theirs was one of those flashy acrobatic teams, where the larger member tosses the smaller around the stage. James Curtis’s Fields biography quotes someone as saying Adler may also have had some trapeze experience. The pair made it as far as Broadway with this act. They were in George M. Cohan’s 1927 show The Merry Malones, as well as the 1928 edition of Earl Carroll’s Vanities, and this is where she met Fields.

Adler replaced Ray Dooley as a baby character in a comedy sketch with Fields in the Vanities, and at some point she became one of his sidewomen, not as significant as Carlotta Monti or Bessie Poole, but important enough for him to have given thousands of dollars to her, both while he was alive and in his will. (After Fields died Adler was involved in a court case concerning that money). In 1935 she had married a doctor, but she came back into Fields life’ in 1937 during a period when he and Monti were on the outs. The reconnect was fortuitous,for Adler subsequently popped up memorably in two of Fields’ movies. She has a funny walk-on as a secretary/stenographer in The Bank Dick (1940), and a hilarious, scene stealing turn as a drunken woman in the saloon in My Little Chickadee (1942). I believe it was this scene that made me have to go and look her up to see what I could learn about her. Later, when Fields was laid up in a sanitarium during one of his drying out sessions, she touchingly sent him a copy of a book about Oscar Wilde. “Don’t let the posy fool you”, indeed.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.