Most actors take pains to make sure you realize they aren’t like the characters they play. “That’s just a role,” they’ll say, “I’m much nicer than that.” That’s one of the reasons to love W.C. Fields: He was pretty much the same guy when the cameras weren’t rolling as when they were.
Born William Claude Dukenfield (you can see why he changed his name), Bill’s hard-drinking characters didn’t like women, children, or dogs. But we liked him anyway. He appeared in 37 films, some of them shorts, but it was some of his last films we remember him for: You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939), My Little Chickadee (1940), The Bank Dick (1940), and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941). And you had to love the names he gave his characters, including Elmer Prettywillie, T. Frothingill Bellows, Prof. Eustace McGargle, and Cuthbert J. Twillie.
No discussion of W.C. Fields would be complete without remembering some of his famous quotes. Here are some favorites:
“What contemptible scoundrel stole the cork from my lunch?” … (When caught reading the Bible) “Just lookin’ for loopholes.” … “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then give up. No use being a damn fool about it.” … “Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.” … “Start each day with a smile, and get it over with.” … “After two days in the hospital, I took a turn for the nurse.”