Legendary comedian W.C. Fields was the lovable king of hilarious, booze swilling one-liners. "If I had to live my life over, I'd live over a saloon" came to mind Friday night when Walter Acuña treated me to a very special evening of toasting Fields at his 130th birthday celebration, hosted by the Fields family in the aptly-named W.C. Fields Bar within the exclusive Hollywood Magic Castle.
Special thanks to our wonderful host, Everett Fields, W.C.'s grandson, and acclaimed Fields biographer James Curtis (W.C. Fields: A Biography, Knopf ~ 2003) and his lovely wife, Kim for their enjoyable company during the evening.
Today Fields is a comedy film icon, whose character is known for his acerbic wit and disdain for children, honesty and anything non-alcoholic. But he started his career thrilling audiences on U.S. and European burlesque and vaudeville stages with his mind-boggling magical juggling act that included balls, hats, cigar boxes and a cane.
Likewise he perfected a trick billiard performance, using a specialty pool table on which he could bounce balls off various parts of his body on to the table and into the corner pockets. He often incorporated these arts into classic, memorable movie scenes throughout his career.
Among the plethora of Fields memorabilia on display in the bar, behind glass, is the original pool table that W.C. performed with on stage. It's over 100 years old, and is on loan courtesy of Everett. It was quite thrilling to see it up close.
Unfortunately, no film exists of Fields' incredible work on the actual vaudeville circuit but a portion of his juggling act was recreated in the 1934 film The Old Fashioned Way which is viewable on YouTube courtesy of user fuzztubb.
You can also get an idea of his billiard skills in the 1915 film Pool Sharks, although it should be noted that the use of trick photography was used to recreate much of what W.C. could do himself on stage. View a restored verison here, courtesy of YT user klangkrieg.
The centerpiece of the W.C. Fields Bar, located on the lower floor of the 22-room, three-story converted mansion, is this dazzling oil paint portrait which made it feel as if W.C. was right there with us. Who knows, maybe he was!
Access to the castle is by invite only, but here's a rare glimpse into the inner sanctum and what Walter and I experienced in this on-the-scene video report, as well as additional images viewable here.
Celebrating the anniversary of W.C. Fields' birth at such a special event was a full-circle occasion for me as a grave hunter, having previously visited his final resting place many times in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Glendale.
Although he was quoted as saying he wanted his epitaph to read "Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia," his elegant gold-plated niche marker simply states the basic facts.
"Don't worry about your heart, it will last you as long as you live." ~ W.C. Fields