December 25, 1946
Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
So who was W. C. Fields?
A runaway child, who left school aged ten and home soon after that, Fields traveled the world as a wandering juggler. Vaudeville brought him to Hollywood, where he became one of its finest comedians, writers and producers.
Despite his unappealing looks, he attracted beautiful women: he spent the last fourteen years of his life with a former Miss Hollywood named Carlotta Monti. Today, he's probably best known for his booze-sodden one-liners.
Where did he drink?
Field's father was a bartender when he was born in a Philadelphia hotel, though Fields would later recall that he drank nothing stronger than beer until he was twelve.
Fields generally loathed bars, nightclubs, parties and even, for that matter, other people's houses. That said, he was sometimes to be found in Chasen's, the bar at the Beverly Hills Hotel and, of course, Chateau Marmont.
What did he drink?
Martinis were his favourite, consumed, at least in later life, by holding a bottle of gin in one hand and vermouth in the other and swigging from each in turn. He would often have a martini with breakfast, and kept a thermos of martinis in his dressing room at all times, under the guise of pineapple juice.
At other times he enjoyed gin and grapefruit, rum and coke, red wine, beer, sherry, Bourbon, rye, Scotch and Irish whiskey. He was also partial to what he referred to as "a marijuana cigarette".
Any famous drinking buddies?
Fields did not click with all his co-stars: his relationship with Mae West was tumultuous, the pair of wits competing for laughs. One of Fields' regular drinking buddies was the thespian John Barrymore - friends dragged Fields out of bed to be pallbearer at his funeral. The silent movie star Louise Brooks became a friend (and possibly more) when they acted together in musical theatre, yet observed that Fields was close to only one man in the world.
How did drink change his life?
Drink was central to Fields' misanthropic comic persona, bringing us lines like "Some weasel has taken the cork out of my lunch," and shaping his bulbous, scarlet nose, still a byword for rosacea. Yet in later life Fields suffered through the full horrors of advanced alcoholism, including the shakes and terrifying visions.
Fields brought his sense of humour to bear on this too - "Back in my rummy days, I would tremble and shake for hours upon arising. It was the only exercise I got." Still, there is no dispute that it was booze that killed him.
Any drinking stories?
During Prohibition, Fields and a friend drove out to Long Island to pick up some bootlegged Irish whiskey from a friend. On the way back, three bottles down, they couldn't help but notice that Long Island seemed to be getting longer. By the time they sobered up sufficiently to focus, they were in a hotel in Florida.
During Fields' final stay in hospital, friends arrived with booze hidden under their coats to find him reading the Bible. Asked what he was doing, Fields rasped, "Looking for loopholes."