Saturday, December 25, 2010

Strawberry (-nosed) Fields forever

The great comedian W. C. Fields died on Christmas Day in 1946.

The hard-drinking, irreverent Fields spent his last days in a hospital, where a friend stopped by for a visit and caught him reading the Bible. "Checking for loopholes," Fields told him.

It is said that on the fateful day, Fields winked and smiled at a nurse, put a finger to his lips, and died. He was 66.

He was interred At Forest Lawn. It is also said that he wanted "I'd rather be in Philadelphia" on his gravestone (a reference to the old vaudeville joke "I'd rather be dead than play Philadelphia.)" But his marker merely has his name, and dates of birth and death.

Following Fields' death, a battle over his estate was waged between a number of claimants, including his estranged wife Hattie, his lover Carlotta Monti, and even a woman who claimed Fields had married her in the 1890s. Most of the money went to Hattie – the money they could find, that is. Fields had stashed funds in bank accounts under false names all over the world.

Fields once said, whether apropos of himself or not, "When we have lost everything, including hope, life becomes a disgrace, and death a duty."

(The books to read about Fields are W. C. Fields and Me and W. C. Fields Straight Up.)