W C Fields in The Mormon's Prayers
March 18, 2012 10:22 AM   Subscribe

W. C. Fields appeared in the Earl Carroll Vanities in 1928. George Mann, part of the dance team of Barto & Mann, was on the same bill, and captured Fields in The Mormon's Prayers.
posted by Ideefixe (13 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I watched expecting to see a rather youthful Fields, but no... he was 48 when he was in this play, and hadn't even made the full transition from stage actor to big-name movie star yet.
posted by hippybear at 10:38 AM on March 18, 2012

What was he praying for? His prayers were already answered. Look up, man!
posted by cjorgensen at 10:40 AM on March 18, 2012

That's a lot of build-up for about 10 seconds of seeing Fields not do anything.
posted by briank at 10:52 AM on March 18, 2012

The other face of W.C.FIELDS
by Louise Brooks

The fierce status battles over theatre dressing-rooms have sometimes driven stars from shows and even closed them. The dressing-room situation in the New Amsterdam was peculiar in that, because of the city fire laws, it was the only theatre in New York sheathed in an office building. Off stage on the ground floor was the single star dressing room. Because Will Rogers came to the theatre wearing his cowboy outfit, carrying his lasso, and chewing his gum, ready to go on stage for his monologue, there was no problem about giving the star dressing room to W. C. Fields. Breaking all the other rules of protocol, Ziegfeld devoted the second floor to his show girls who, in case they missed the elevator, must not exhaust themselves walking down more than a single flight of stairs to the stage. The principals dressed on the third floor, the chorus girls on the fourth. On the fifth floor was another single dressing-room, a duplicate of the star's. Dorothy Knapp, Ziegfeld's most glorified beauty, dressed here alone. It was decided that I should share her glory.

We were a harmonious couple. Between Dorothy and me there was neither jealousy nor competition. For Dorothy, it was not enough, walking across the stage dressed in little except her breathless beauty and divine smile. Although her screen tests had been unsuccessful, she still yearned to become a movie star and took lessons in acting and dancing towards that end. For me, after dancing with Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and Martha Graham, my little dances in the Follies were not enough. In May at Paramount under Herbert Brenon's direction, I had played with no enthusiasm a bit part in The Street of Forgotten Men. I wanted to be a show girl and do nothing. My moment of delight came at the end of the Follies when the whole company came on stage for the finale. Will Rogers and I climbed a ladder to the top of a fifteen foot tower set in the middle of the stage. Starting with a tiny noose on his lasso, Rogers would twirl it faster and faster, bigger and bigger until the rope hissed in a circle around us like an intoxicated snake as the curtains opened and the dazzling spot light shone upon us.

The fifth floor dressing-room lost its exclusive atmosphere when Peggy Fears, who had also transferred from Louie to the Follies, decided to become my best friend. She was a darling girl, with a sweet singing voice, from Dallas, Texas. Her smooth chestnut-coloured hair was untouched by dyes or permanent waves. Instead of the expensive gowns of a Follies girl, she wore schoolgirl sweaters and skirts. Perhaps it was her whimsical sense of fun that attracted her to me. And what could be more fun than Peggy, the most popular girl in the show, becoming friends with its most abominated member-me? One night she crashed our dressing-room carrying a Wedgwood teapot full of corn whisky and, knowing my literary pretensions, two disgustingly vulgar magazines├»┬┐┬ŻBroadway Brevities and The Police Gazette. A week later we were living together in the Gladstone Hotel off Park Avenue, where swarmed Peggy's friends until September when she went on tour with the Follies and I went into The American Venus at Paramount's Long Island studio.

It was through Peggy Fears that I came to know Bill Fields. Before the matineé, at the Rosary Florist, she would select a bouquet to be wrapped in waxed paper and presented to Bill in his dressing-room. It touched his heart. Bill adored beautiful girls but few were invited to his dressing-room. He was morbidly sensitive about the skin disease which inflamed his nose and sometimes erupted on his hands, making it necessary for him to learn to juggle wearing gloves. After several devastating experiences with beautiful girls he had decided to restrict his choice of girl friends to those less attractive whom he would not find adrift with saxophone players.

Bill entertained Peggy and me with distinction. His bar was an open wardrobe trunk fitted with shelves, planted, as if it were an objet d'art, beside his chair. While Shorty, the silent dwarf who was his valet and assistant on the stage, went about preparing our drinks, Peggy and I would dance around Bill who sat at his make-up shelf, listening to our nonsense with gracious attention.

I have never loved and laughed at W. C. Fields in films as I loved and laughed at him in the theatre. There are three reasons. First, in the theatre he was a make-believe character playing in a make-believe world. In films he was a real character acting in real stories. On the stage the crafty idiocy with which he attempted to extricate himself from ludicrous situations was unbelievably funny. The same idiocy attending the same situations on the screen gave his 'real' character sometimes a degraded, often a cruel and destructive quality.

posted by netbros at 11:08 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Too bad: "This video has been removed by the user"
posted by growabrain at 11:19 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, netbros, for that link. Fascinating, and says much about Brooks as well as Fields. Too bad "Lulu in Hollywood" isn't on Kindle, Amazon would have gotten an immediate sale.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:22 AM on March 18, 2012

The thing being linked to has been deleted now.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:39 AM on March 18, 2012

Yeah, the whole point of this thread vanished an hour and a half of it being posted. That's pretty crummy.
posted by JHarris at 11:50 AM on March 18, 2012

(Which doesn't reflect badly on Ideefixe, who had no control over it. Still though, not a lot to see here anymore.)
posted by JHarris at 11:50 AM on March 18, 2012

Thanks for the link to my On Bunker Hill site where we've been digging into the film archives of the facinating George Mann. I'm sorry the YouTube link went astray. The W.C. Fields clip is fixed now.
posted by Scram at 2:19 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Afraid not. Just clicked and got a removed warning.
posted by Samizdata at 4:07 PM on March 18, 2012

http://youtu.be/d_3SVBSd9R0 is the direct link.
posted by Scram at 4:16 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Right then, that's done it. Cheers!
posted by Samizdata at 8:51 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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