Plowing Through Stanley Fields

An overdue look today at Stanley Fields (Walter Agnew, 1883-1941). A Greek American from Alleghany, Pennsylvania (catch that surname), he had the bad instincts to adopt a sort of forgettable professional handle, which seems in retrospect to mash Stan Laurel with Sid Fields.

Originally a professional boxer, Stanley Fields possessed a broken nose and a stout physique not unlike that of Rags Ragland, Mike Mazurki and Anthony Quinn. His Broadway work included the original 1908 production of George M. Cohan’s Fifty Miles from Boston, and The Red Widow (1911), another Cohan and Harris production. Seven years as a church choir boy meant that Fields could also carry a tune. He performed in vaudeville for years, including an eight year stint as stooge to Frank Fay.

Fields’ first film was New York Nights (1929) with Norma Talmadge. His sturdy physique and ugly puss got him lots of supporting roles in gangster pictures and westerns, though we are naturally more interested in his work as a heavy in classic comedies. He appeared with Al Jolson in Mammy (1930); with Harry Langdon and Slim Summerville in See America Thirst (1930); with Wheeler and Woolsey in Cracked Nuts (1931) and Girl Crazy (1932) ; with Eddie Cantor in The Kid from Spain (1932), Roman Scandals (1933), Kid Millions (1934) and Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937); with Jimmy Durante and Lupe Velez in Strictly Dynamite (1934); with Charles Butterworth in Baby Face Harrington (1935); with Laurel and Hardy in Way Out West (1937); with Olsen and Johnson in All Over Town (1937); and with the Ritz Brothers in Straight Place or Show (1938) and Pack Up Your Troubles (1939).

Non-comedy classics Fields appeared in included Little Caesar (1931), Cimarron (1931), Riders of the Purple Sage (1931), the original Destry Rides Again (1932), The Mouthpiece (1932), Sherlock Holmes (1932), Island of Lost Souls (1932), Palooka (1934), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Show Boat (1936), Wells Fargo (1937), Algiers (1938), The Kid from Kokomo (1939) and Wyoming (1940). His last film was the 1941 crime drama I’ll Sell My Life with Rose Hobart. He was just a month shy of his 58th birthday when he was felled by a heart attack in 1941.

For more on vaudeville, 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.