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W.C. Fields—In Africa

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin November 7, 2012 at 10:52AM

I don’t know how many young people are aware of the great W.C. Fields, but they ought to be. Two years ago, Zach Galifianakis wrote on his MySpace page, “Influences – my family, my friends and wc fields…” Contemporary comedy guru Judd Apatow has said, “W.C. Fields is the funniest guy of everybody, ever.” When Conan O’Brien was asked by James Lipton, “Who makes you laugh?” he replied, “W.C. Fields I think is maybe the funniest man that ever lived.”
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Dr. Harriet Fields during her visit to the Kwetu Film Institute.
Dr. Harriet Fields during her visit to the Kwetu Film Institute.

I don’t know how many young people are aware of the great W.C. Fields, but they ought to be. Two years ago, Zach Galifianakis wrote on his MySpace page, “Influences – my family, my friends and wc fields…” Contemporary comedy guru Judd Apatow has said, “W.C. Fields is the funniest guy of everybody, ever.” When Conan O’Brien was asked by James Lipton, “Who makes you laugh?” he replied, “W.C. Fields I think is maybe the funniest man that ever lived.”

The great man’s grandchildren keep his flame alive around the world. Not long ago, Dr. Harriet Fields sent me this note: “I just returned from Rwanda, Africa, studying health care throughout the country. I also presented at the Rwanda Cinema Center/Kwetu Film Institute screening two of our grandfather W.C. Fields’ films. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put Eric Kabera, the founder of the Kwetu Film Institute, in contact, for the Rwanda Cinema Center is part of the Academy’s international outreach program, and last year they visited there.

Here’s a rare casual shot of Fields, Dorothy Lamour, and director Mitchell Leisen on the Paramount studio lot during filming of 'The Big Broadcast of 1938.'
Here’s a rare casual shot of Fields, Dorothy Lamour, and director Mitchell Leisen on the Paramount studio lot during filming of 'The Big Broadcast of 1938.'

“On Sunday, August 12, the Kwetu Film Institute screened two W.C. Fields films under the stars – a magical experience for all, many attendees said they will remember the evening forever. I had the privilege to speak to the audience [and] I shared with the audience that our grandfather performed in South Africa. Eric Kabera said he wants to teach his film students how to do comedy to help make them and the country laugh again, and said W.C. Fields comic genius is unmatched in the world today. Rwanda has suffered so much from the genocide of 1994. I donated DVDs of many of W.C. Fields films and shared that W.C. Fields said, ‘If I can make them laugh and through that laughter make this old world seem just a little brighter, then I am satisfied.’ ”

Harriet continued, “I studied health care delivery in the rural villages in Rwanda and the relationship to university education in nursing, and will be returning to follow-up.”

If you’d like to read more about this heartening cultural exchange, which has brought one of the world’s greatest comedians to an appreciative new audience, you should visit the official W.C. Fields website HERE.

And not so incidentally, the great nonsense classic Million Dollar Legs (1932), which Fields plays the King of Klopstokia, is finally available on DVD as part of a collection called Universal Rarities, released by Turner Classic Movies. (Yes, I know, all four films on the set were made by Paramount, but now they’re owned by Universal.) For more information, click HERE.

And while the W.C. Fields Fan Club is no longer publishing a physical newsletter, it still has interesting material on its website.  

More W.C.

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    More W.C. Fields

    W.C. meets another Paramount star, Popeye, in this 1938 publicity still.
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    More W.C. Fields

    Fields as Mr. Micawber, the role he was born to play, in 'David Copperfield' (1935). As it happens, he replaced Charles Laughton after the film had already begun production.
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    More W.C. Fields

    Susan Fleming (later Mrs. Harpo Marx), Jack Oakie, and W.C. Fields in the hilarious 'Million Dollar Legs' (1932).
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    More W.C. Fields

    Fields takes a break from shooting 'Poppy' (1936) on the Paramount lot.

This article is related to: Journal, W. C. Fields, Dr. Harriet Fields