W. C. Fields (William Claude Dukenfield), 1880 - 1946

portrait of W. C. Fields

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Born: 29 January 1880, Darby, Pennsylvania
Died: 25 December 1946, Pasadena, California

Claude Dukenfield was the eldest child of a produce vendor. He only went to school for about four years. Some sources suggest he ran away from home at age eleven, the truth is that his father drank and Claude would run off to his grandmother's house on bad nights. He loved to juggle, he worked odd jobs and hustled pool and cards, practicing his juggling the rest of the time. He may have been the world's greatest juggler by age 20, and his fame and income grew under the shortened name W. C. Fields. He added some comedy to his juggling, and his popularity soared, at the same time he was doing well with juggling in silent films. He married his stage assistant and they had a son in 1904, she didn't want to travel and he lived on the road, so they separated but never divorced. He had another son in 1917, he voluntarily supported his wife and both sons financially. He once found himself broke and stranded in a strange town, from that time he took to opening bank accounts everywhere he went - he had at least 700 accounts in different cities around the world in case he ever was stranded there again. His carefully crafted image, the boozer who hated women, children, and dogs, was at least partially true in later life, he died from an alcohol-related stomach hemorrhage, but he didn't touch a drop until his juggling days were over. He was a difficult to direct as an actor and rewrote most of his dialogue, also frequently insisting that a small group of actors be hired with him. At one point he was inactive as an actor due to health and recorded a speech for radio, he was a frequent guest on network radio shows from then on and his appearances fueled his later film popularity. He claimed to despise Christmas, but that was the day he died.

Biography from Wikipedia and IMDB

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