W. C. Fields

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Behind The Laughter was a 1994 TV documentary on the great man, that I believed aired on the Biography Channel in the US. It was included by Universal as part of the W.C. Fields DVD box set (volume 1). Despite featuring interviews with relatives of Fields (his nephew I think), his co-star from Never Give A Sucker an Even Break Gloria Jean, and people such as Rod Steiger and Ed MacMahon, it seems like it was a rather rushed, poorly researched and flawed documentary.

One person who really annoyed me throughout the entire film was Rod Steiger, who portrayed Fields in awful the 1977 bio-pic W.C. Fields and Me. Throughout the show he continually answers questions in a voice that imitates the distinctive drawl of Fields. I am not sure why they even asked Steiger to participate. I guess when you are making a cheap biography on someone it is customary to interview the actor who portrayed that person in a third-rate bio-pic that doesn’t even try to aim at accuracy?! As Vincent Canby said in his review of W.C. Fields and Me regarding Steiger…

Most prominent in the mess is Rod Steiger, who . . . reads all of his lines with the monotonous sing-song manner used by third-rate nightclub comics doing Fields imitations. He also speaks most of them out of the corner of his mouth as if he’d had a stroke.

17 years later his impression had not improved and is very irritating.

Most of the others who are interviewed in Behind The Laughter also seem to know very little about Fields. Everyone who says that they knew him calls him W.C. yet it is well-known that his very closest friends simply called him Bill.

Finally there is the misquote that is used to portray Fields as being jealous of Charlie Chaplin. BTL says that Fields dismissed Chaplin as being nothing but a ballet dancer. The actual quote is…

He’s the best ballet dancer that ever lived and if I get a good chance I’ll kill him with my bare hands.

which shows both admiration and I guess jealousy.

Overall W.C. Fields Behind The Laughter is a terrible documentary.