Archive for the W.C. Fields Category

Stars of Slapstick #225: Elise Cavanna

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, VISUAL ART, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , on January 30, 2017 by travsd

url

Today is the birthday of Elise Cavanna (Elise Seeds, 1902-1963).

Originally from Philadelphia, Cavanna took art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy before studying dance with Isadora Duncan. She performed in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925 where she befriended both W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks, fortuitous connections in both cases. After appearing in her second and last Broadway show Morals (1925-26) with Mischa Auer, Wheeler Dryden, and Edward Van Sloan, she got a part in the Louise Brooks film Love ’em and Leave ’em (1926), and It’s the Old Army Game (1926) with both Fields and Brooks.

Fields relished Cavanna’s comic physicality. She was tall and thin, with crazy, long limbs, not worlds away from Charlotte Greenwood. He put her to great use in his classic shorts The Dentist (1932), The Pharmacist (1933) and The Barber Shop (1933), and she also has a bit part in You’re Telling Me (1934). Her appearances in the Fields comedies is what she is best remembered for today.

8a15545c39091e905d11652cb1f669a8

Cavanna worked steadily throughout the 1930s, sometimes with minor speaking parts, more usually in bit roles. She is in short subjects with great comic stars like Ned Sparks and Walter Catlett, she has a small role in Wheeler and Woolsey’s Hips, Hips Hooray (1934), and she has a fairly decent part in I Met My Love Again (1938) with Joan Bennett and Henry Fonda. In 1939 she parted ways with the film business, although she did return on one occasion to take a walk-on in the movie Ziegfeld Follies (1945) for old times sake.

By then, she was deep into a completely different life. In 1932 Cavanna married Merle Armitage, a man who was at the center of the arts scene in Los Angeles. Armitage was a collector, arts patron, book designer, writer, publisher, and administrator with the WPA. From the time of her marriage, Cavanna’s social set became artists as opposed to the movie colony. She began to paint again, and exhibited her work professionally. This is what she looked like in her other life:

elise-photo-m2008_289_63_0

For more on slapstick comedy don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

The Definitive W.C. Fields Book?

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Comedians, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Jugglers, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , on January 29, 2017 by travsd

51x30k7esyl-_sx321_bo1204203200_

Today is the birthday of one of America’s greatest stage and screen artists, W.C. Fields. Thus far, we have published over 130 articles about Fields on Travalanche. To read them go here. And for our full biographical essay on Fields, go here. 

I’d like to observe today by expending a few words of praise for part one of Arthur Wertheim’s two volume Fields biography W.C. Fields from Burlesque and Vaudeville to Broadway. I have read most if not all of the existing Fields biographies and so I am here to tell you that Wertheim does achieve something most difficult on such a heavily-covered topic: breaking new ground.  To clarify, the by-now familiar life trajectory is very much the same as the one we have come to internalize: the youth in Philadelphia; the rapid rise in show business from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City to the Crowned Heads of Europe as a vaudeville juggler; the romance and then break-up of his marriage with his wife Hattie. There are no new major events beyond those we have previously encountered. What is different here is in the texture and detail. Wertheim had unlimited access to Fields’ papers, and to rare photographic material from the collections of W.C. Fields’ Productions. He mined the correspondence for exchanges we’ve never encountered before, scores of them, resulting in a portrait of unprecedented, sometimes even painful, intimacy. (But also entertaining: Fields was a compulsive wordsmith in his private life as much as his public one. He had pet names for everyone, and an invariably interesting way of expressing himself). ALSO: Wertheim clearly spent a good deal of time in the Keith-Albee Collection at the University of Iowa, a pilgrimage I confess I would love to make some day. I’m not certain any previous Fields biographer has done this before (at least, I don’t recall these kinds of details emerging). What you get from the Keith-Albee records are not just the dates of where he was on the big time circuits at any given time, but the reports on his act by local theatre managers. It’s as close as we’re ever going to get to being there. And some of the new photos are eye-popping. A notable one depicts Fields in blackface during his short stint as a minstrel. (Scarcely anyone in show business, black or white, was immune from engaging in the practice in those less enlightened times).

I will say this: it’s probably not the book for newbies. It’s more for die-hard fans and scholars. It was especially brave of Palgrave MacMillan (if logical and necessary) to put out volume one first, as it ends in 1915, with Fields’ movie and radio careers far in the future and even his Broadway career just beginning. When the rest of the biography comes out, I think it likely that more folks will go out and get this earlier volume, as readers become interested in the Great Man’s origins and beginnings. But as I as know a good chunk of the Travalanche readers are those very die-hard fans and scholars, without hesitation I give Wertheim’s book the very highest recommendation.

Nat Hentoff: W.C. Fields Fan?

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, W.C. Fields with tags , , on January 11, 2017 by travsd

12917hentoffrobbins

We were delighted to see, amongst all the Nat Hentoff tributes in this week’s Village Voice the above photograph, which depicts the late critic and columnist in his cluttered office, which he’d plainly decorated with a huge blow-up still of W.C. Fields et al in David Copperfield. That Hentoff should be a Fields fan shouldn’t shock. I quickly realized I’d used the word libertarian to describe both of them, in this Fields essay here, and well as in my obit piece on Hentoff. I only wish I’d known of his enthusiasm sooner — I’d have asked him to participate or give us a nice quote or otherwise support Fields Fest! 

W.C. Fields has a Cameo in “La La Land”

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Movies (Contemporary), PLUGS, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on December 27, 2016 by travsd

unnamed

I didn’t see La La Land yet, but Dr. Harriet Fields reports she spotted the mural containing her grandfather in the film. She says the mural is located “just off Hollywood Blvd., and up from the Roosevelt Hotel, where the first W.C. Fields star is” (meaning, his star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame). The muralist humorously grouped Fields (whose screen character was supposed to dislike kids and dogs, with Shirley Temple and Lassie. Meet Dr. Fields live in person this Thursday at our screening of Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) at Metrograph! 

Trav and Fields at Metrograph This Thursday

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Hollywood (History), Movies, PLUGS, W.C. Fields with tags , , , on December 26, 2016 by travsd

Cman_flying_trapeze_1935_3-1480963036-726x388-1482429043-633x380

Fields Fest continues! Come see me and Dr. Harriet Fields (W.C.’s only granddaughter, a global health advocate) as we present the neglected 1935 WC Fields classic Man on the Flying Trapeze, this Thursday, January 29 at Metrograph. Information and tickets are here

70 Years Ago Today: W.C. Fields Meets the Man in the Bright Nightgown

Posted in Christmas, Comedians, Comedy, W.C. Fields with tags , , , on December 25, 2016 by travsd

14494889_1980660825493995_4539788504964186363_n

We’ll be blogging about comedian W.C. Fields all through November and December as part of our tribute to the comedian called Fields Fest.  For a full list upcoming live Fields Fest events go here. 

It’s well known that W.C. Fields was a comedian, a screenwriter and a juggler — probably less well known that he was an amateur cartoonist. His drawings were interesting, original, funny and very much reflective of his personality. I came upon this Christmas card he designed a few months ago. There are ironies and meaning aplenty here. Fields the curmudgeon wasn’t crazy about Christmas. And also he died on Christmas day, 1946 — 70 years ago today. (He often spoke of death as “meeting the Man in the Bright Nightgown”. )

Today was originally intended to be the last day of Fields Fest, but we have spillover! On December 29, we’ll be presenting Man on the Flying Trapeze at Metrograph with guest speaker Dr. Harriet Fields, W.C.’s only granddaughter, a global health advocate. And we will be rescheduling our talk on “W.C. Fields: from Dime Museums to the Jazz Age”, co-presented by Zelda Magazine, originally scheduled for the Morbid Anatomy Museum. We’ll have an article on Fields in Zelda, and more blogposts about him here on Travalanche. It appears that Fields Fest is the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks for being part of it!

Films of Fields #42: Sensations of 1945

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on December 25, 2016 by travsd

images

We’ll be blogging about comedian W.C. Fields all through November and December as part of our tribute to the comedian called Fields Fest.  For a full list upcoming live Fields Fest events go here. 

Merry Christmas! At last we come to the end of the Films of Fields series.

Sensations of 1945 contains W.C. Fields’ last film performance. Like many an actors’ swan song it has a reputation for being weak and sub-par, and while I’d never argue otherwise, I would offer up redeeming features. There is something vital about the fact that it bravely breaks some new ground. Unlike Follow the Boys, which contains the umpeenth revival of the pool routine, and Song of the Open Road, in which he essentially just horses around for the camera a little, in Sensations of 1945, for the first time in ages and ages, Fields adapts one of his old Broadway revue sketches, debuting it for film. In this case it is “The Caledonian Express”, a sketch he had presented in Earl Carroll’s Vanities in 1928. Essentially the thrust of it is that Fields and a companion occupy a British railway compartment reserved for someone else and haughtily refuse to budge. The scene is presented as a “play within a play”, in other words, it is done as a stage sketch in the context of putting on a show by a father-and-son show biz agency and the dancer (Eleanor Powell) who is helping to spruce up their operation.

Fields was very infirm during the filming of this sketch, and had trouble both memorizing his lines and reading the cue cards that were being used to assist him. He died nearly a year and a half after its release, on Christmas Day, 1946.

%d bloggers like this: