Beautiful unissued Preferred Stock Certificate from the W.C. Fields Producing Company
printed in 1920. This historic document was printed by the American Banknote Company and has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of an eagle and an embossed corporate seal. This item has the space for the signatures of the Company’s President and Secretary, and is over 101 years old. The certificate came from a book where the first certificate was issued to W.C. Fields in 1920 as shown below.
Embossed Corporate Seal
Ledger page shown for illustrative purposes
Under the laws of Delaware, W.C. Fields formed the W. C. Fields Producing Corporation on March 18, 1920, valued at $225,000 in capital stock. Fields started this production company of actors so he could present “The Family Ford,” and other productions in vaudeville theaters. In “The Family Ford,” Fields and his family are off for a drive in the country, with predictable comic results.
W. C. Fields (January 29, 1880 – December 25, 1946) was an American juggler, comedian, and actor. Fields created one of the great American comic personas of the first half of the 20th century—a misanthrope who teetered on the edge of buffoonery but never quite fell in, an egotist blind to his own failings, a charming drunk; and a man who hated children, dogs, and women, unless they were the wrong sort of women.
This characterization that he portrayed in films and radio was so strong that it was generally identified with Fields himself. It was maintained by the then-typical movie-studio publicity departments at Fields's studios (Paramount and Universal) and further established by Robert Lewis Taylor's 1949 biography W.C. Fields, His Follies and Fortunes. Beginning in 1973, with the publication of Fields's letters, photos, and personal notes in grandson Ronald Fields's book W.C. Fields by Himself, it has been shown that Fields was married (and subsequently estranged from his wife), he financially supported their son, and he loved his grandchildren.
There was some truth to the misanthropic persona, however. Madge Evans, an actress who appeared in several films during the 1930s and who was later married to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sidney Kingsley ("Dead End," "Detective Story"), told a visitor in 1972 that her friend Fields so deeply resented intrusions on his privacy by curious tourists walking up the driveway to his Los Angeles home that he would conceal himself in the shrubs by his house, firing BB pellets at the trespassers' legs. Groucho Marx told a similar story, in his live album An Evening with Groucho.
Born William Claude Dukenfield in Darby, Pennsylvania. His father, James Dukenfield, came from an English-Irish family of noble origins (being descendants of Lord Dukenfield of Cheshire), and his mother, Kate Spangler Felton, was also of British descent. James Dukenfield arrived in the USA in 1857 from Ecclesall Bierlow in Sheffield, South Yorkshire with his father John (who was a comb maker), mother Ann and his siblings. James was identified as a "baker" on the 1860 U.S. census and a "huckster" on the 1870 census, an enterprise in which the young William later assisted.
Fields left home at age 18 and entered vaudeville. By age 21 he was traveling as a comedy juggling act, becoming a headliner in both North America and Europe. In 1906 he made his Broadway debut in the musical comedy The Ham Tree.
Fields was well known for embellishing stories of his youth, but despite the legends he encouraged, the truth is that his home seems to have been a relatively happy one and his family supported his ambitions for the stage: his parents saw him off on the train for his first real stage tour as a teenager, and his father visited him in England while Fields was enjoying success in the music halls there.
He married a fellow vaudevillian, chorus girl Harriet "Hattie" Hughes, on April 8, 1900. Their son, William Claude Fields Jr., was born on July 28, 1904.
At the time Fields was away from Hattie on tour in England. By 1907, however, W. C. and Hattie separated; she had been pressing him to stop touring and settle down to a respectable trade, while he was unwilling to give up his own livelihood. Until his death Fields would keep up both correspondence and the sending of voluntary child-support payments to Hattie.
Fields started as an "eccentric juggler" in vaudeville, appearing in the makeup of a genteel "tramp": scruffy beard and shabby tuxedo, for instance. He juggled cigar boxes, hats, and a variety of other objects in what seems to have been a unique and fresh act, parts of which are reproduced in some of his films. Fields confined his act to pantomime, so he could play international theaters and overcome any language barriers. Fields toured several continents and became literally a world-class juggler and an international star.
Back in America, Fields found that he could get more laughs adding dialogue to his routines. His trademark mumbling patter and sarcastic asides were developed during this time. He soon starred on Broadway in Florenz Ziegfeld's famous "Ziegfeld Follies" revues. There he delighted audiences with a wild pool skit, complete with bizarrely shaped cues and a custom-built table used for a number of hilarious gags and surprising stunts. His pool game is also reproduced, at least in part, in some of his films.
He starred in multiple editions of the Follies and in the Broadway musical comedy Poppy, where he perfected his persona as an oily, small-time confidence man.
W.C. Fields wearing his early mustache get-up with Louise Brooks in It's the Old Army GameFields starred in a couple of short comedies, filmed in New York in 1915. His stage commitments prevented him from doing more movie work until 1924. He reprised his Poppy role in a silent-film adaptation, retitled Sally of the Sawdust (1925) and directed by the legendary D.W. Griffith. Fields wore a scruffy-looking, clip-on mustache in virtually all of his silent films, discarding it only after his first sound feature film, Her Majesty Love.
Fields made four short subjects for comedy pioneer Mack Sennett in 1932 and 1933. During this period, Paramount Pictures began featuring Fields in full-length comedies, and by 1934 he was a major movie star.
He also contributed to the films' scripts, under unusual pseudonyms such as "Otis Criblecoblis," which contains an embedded homophone for "scribble." Another, "Mahatma Kane Jeeves," is a pun on mahatma and a phrase of an aristocrat walking out: "My hat, my cane, Jeeves." He also used the ordinary-sounding pseudonym "Charles Bogle" several times.
In his films, he often played hustlers such as carnival barkers and card sharps, spinning yarns and distracting his marks, as with this gem from Mississippi: "Whilst traveling through the Andes Mountains, we lost our corkscrew. Had to live on food and water for several days!" Fields had an affection for unlikely names and many of his characters bore them. Among the prime examples are:
"Larson E. [read "Larceny"] Whipsnade" (You Can't Cheat an Honest Man);
"Egbert Sousé" [pronounced 'soo-ZAY', but pointing toward a synonym for a 'drunk'] (The Bank Dick);
"Ambrose Wolfinger" (Man on the Flying Trapeze); and,
"The Great McGonigle" (The Old-Fashioned Way).
The carnival fraud was not the only character Fields played. He was also fond of casting himself as the victim: a hapless householder constantly under the thumb of his shrewish wife and/or mother-in-law. His 1934 classic It's a Gift included his stage sketch of trying to escape his nagging family by sleeping on the back porch, and being bedeviled by noisy neighbors and traveling salesmen.
Although lacking formal education, he was well read and a lifelong admirer of author Charles Dickens. He achieved one of his career ambitions by playing the character Mr. Micawber, in MGM's David Copperfield in 1935. In 1936, Fields re-created his signature stage role in Poppy for Paramount Pictures.
Illness, worsened by his heavy drinking, stopped Fields's film work in 1936; he made one last film for Paramount, The Big Broadcast of 1938. The comedian's all-around cussedness kept other producers away, and Fields was professionally idle until he made his debut on radio.
While Fields was inactive, he recorded a short speech for a radio broadcast. His familiar, snide drawl registered so well with listeners that he quickly became a popular guest on network radio shows. One of his funniest routines had him trading insults with Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy on "The Chase and Sanborn Hour." Fields would twit Charlie about his being made of wood, while Charlie would fire back at Fields about his drinking (Fields: "Is it true your father was a gate-leg table?" McCarthy: "If it is, your father was under it!").
Fields's new popularity earned him a contract with Universal Pictures in 1939. His first feature for Universal, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, carried on the Fields-McCarthy rivalry. In 1940 Fields made My Little Chickadee with Mae West, as well as The Bank Dick, perhaps his best-known film (in which he asks bartender Shemp Howard, "Was I in here last night, and did I spend a $20 bill?" "Yeah!" "Oh, is that a load off my mind... I thought I'd lost it!").
Fields often fought with studio producers, directors, and writers over the content of his films. He was determined to make a movie his way, with his own script and staging and his own choice of supporting players. Universal finally gave him the chance, and the resulting film, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, (1941) is a masterpiece of absurd humor in which Fields appeared as himself, "The Great Man." Universal's singing star Gloria Jean played opposite Fields, and his old cronies Leon Errol and Franklin Pangborn served as his comic foils. But the film Fields delivered was so nonsensical that Universal recut and reshot parts of it and then quietly released both the film and Fields. Sucker turned out to be his last starring film.
W. C. Fields was the original choice for the title role in the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. One rumor was that he believed the role was too small. Another alleged that he was asking too much money: his asking price was $100,000, while MGM offered $75,000. However, his agent asserted that Fields rejected the role because he wanted to devote his time to writing You Can't Cheat an Honest Man. In any case, the Oz role was certainly tailored for Fields: Frank Morgan played the carnival mountebank "Professor Marvel" with the florid speech and pompous fraudulence typical of Fields.
Fields also figured in an Orson Welles project. Welles's bosses at RKO Radio Pictures, after losing money on Citizen Kane, urged Welles to choose as his next film a subject with more commercial appeal. Welles considered an adaptation of Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers starring Fields and John Barrymore, but Fields's schedule would not permit it. The project was permanently shelved, and Welles went on to adapt The Magnificent Ambersons.
Fields's film career slowed down considerably in the 1940s. His illnesses confined him to brief guest-star appearances. An extended sequence in 20th Century Fox's Tales of Manhattan (1942) was cut from the original release of the film; it was later reinstated for some home video releases. His last film, the musical revue Sensations (of 1945), was released in 1945.
He also guested occasionally on radio, often with Edgar Bergen, and just before his death he recorded a spoken-word album, delivering his comic "Temperance Lecture." Fields was too ill to go to a recording studio, so Les Paul brought the equipment to him. Fields's vision had deteriorated so much that he read his lines from large-print cue cards. It was W. C. Fields's last performance and, despite his frail health, one of his most charming.
Fields spent his last weeks in a hospital, where a friend stopped by for a visit and caught Fields reading the Bible. When asked why, Fields replied, "I'm checking for loopholes." In a final irony, W. C. Fields died in 1946 (from a stomach hemorrhage) on the holiday he claimed to despise: Christmas Day.  As documented in W.C. Fields and Me (published in 1971, the book was made into a film of the same name, starring Rod Steiger in 1976), he died at Las Encinas Sanatorium, Pasadena, California, a bungalow-type sanitarium where, as he lay in bed dying, his long-time and final love, Carlotta Monti, went outside and turned the hose onto the roof, so as to allow Fields to hear for one last time his favorite sound of falling rain. According to the documentary W.C. Fields Straight Up, his death occurred in this way: he winked and smiled at a nurse, put a finger to his lips, and died. Fields was 66, and had been a patient for 14 months.
He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. There have been stories that he wanted his grave marker to read "On the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia," his home town, which is similar to a line he used in My Little Chickadee: "I'd like to see Paris before I die... Philadelphia would do!" (In one of his film bits, he made a point of referencing "Philadelphia Cream Cheese." Given his fondness for words, maybe he just liked the sound of his home town's name.) This rumor has also morphed into "I would rather be here than in Philadelphia." The anecdote that Fields often remarked, "Philadelphia, wonderful town, spent a week there one night" is unsubstantiated. It is also said that Fields wanted "I'd rather be in Philadelphia" on his gravestone because of the old vaudeville joke among comedians that "I would rather be dead than play Philadelphia." Whatever his wishes might have been, his interment marker merely has his name and birth and death years. W.C. Fields famously left the money in his will to build the "W.C. Fields orphanage for white boys and girls. Not surprisingly, the orphanage was never built.
History from Wikipedia and OldCompanyResearch.com (old stock certificate research service).