William Claude Dukenfield, known as W. C. Fields was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer. Fields created one of the great American comic personas of the first half of the 20th century: a misanthropic and hard-drinking egotist who remained a sympathetic character despite his snarling contempt for dogs, children, and women.
The characterization that he portrayed in films and radio was so strong it became generally identified with Fields himself. It was maintained by the 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), and he financially supported their son and loved his grandchildren.
There was some truth to the misanthropic persona, however. Madge Evans, a friend and actress who appeared in several films during the 1930s, told a visitor in 1972 that Fields so deeply resented intrusions on his privacy by curious tourists walking up the driveway to his Los Angeles home that he would hide in the shrubs by his house and fire BB pellets at the trespassers` legs. Groucho Marx told a similar story, in his live album An Evening with Groucho.
Fields 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. Although Fields was "an avowed atheist [who] regarded all religions with the suspicion of a seasoned con man", he yielded to Hattie`s wish to have their son baptized. At the time Fields was away from Hattie on tour in England. By 1907, however, W. C. and Hattie had 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. He had another son, born on August 15, 1917, with girlfriend Bessie Poole, named William Rexford Fields Morris. Bessie was an established Zeigfield Follies performer and met W.C. while performing in New York City at the famous Amsterdam Theater. Her beauty and quick wit attracted W.C. who was the featured act from 1916 until 1922. She was killed in a bar fight several years later, leaving young Bill to be raised in foster-care where he acquired the surname Morris by his foster-mother. W.C. sent voluntary support to young Bill in care of his foster-mother until high school graduation when he sent $300 as a graduation gift. Fields lived with Carlotta Monti (1907-1993) after they met in 1932 and they began a relationship which lasted until his death in 1946.