Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mount TBR #30

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2017. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

W.C. Fields: A Biography - James Curtis

Anybody interested in the history of entertainment in the US should read this biography of the 1930s and early 1940s screen comedian. Curtis relates at interesting length that in his youth Fields played every performing venue from fair pavilions to circuses, burlesque to minstrelsy, travelling shows to early vaudeville theaters. Then he was a star in the Ziegfield Follies, stage, screen and radio. Fields made such an imprint on pop culture that his reputation experienced comebacks after his death on Christmas in 1946. For instance, when I was a college student in the 1970s, plenty of guys had his poster in their dorm room.

The reason for Fields appeal to youth and other crusty personalities was that he was a rebel. Therefore, directors and actors either loved or hated to work with him. An anti-authoritarian and agent of chaos down to his heels, he was always for the underdog. The crew always loved him because Fields was generous with money and assistance when they or their family members were in trouble.

This is a long book, mainly due to production stories that, to my mind, might have been snipped. I mean, wrangles over creative differences start to feel same-same to me, past a certain point. But that is what skimming and scanning are for.

The Fields estate granted Curtis access to Fields' papers, plus he went over unpublished manuscripts provided by employees or their families. Curtis also interviewed the ever dwindling number of Fields’ fellow actors and crew members. So readers who consider the research will be assured that Curtis has done his homework. The book also has many revealing photos, especially one of Fields as a15-year-old. Beaten at home by his drunken father, homeless at times, hassled by older toughs and chickenshit adults, he looks angry to bursting but determined to get his own back from the world.

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