"Women are like elephants to me; I like to look at them, but I wouldn't want to own one."
-W.C. Fields (William Claude Dukenfield) 1880-1946
W.C. Fields is a comic icon in movie history. Critics rank him with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers in the upper echelons of motion picture comedy. His classic movies include Million Dollar Legs (1932), Tillie and Gus (1933), The Bank Dick (1940), My Little Chickadee (with Mae West) (1940) and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941).
W.C. Fields spent much of his boyhood in poverty and as an adult was constantly in fear of being broke. As a result, his girlfriends found him a tight man with a dollar.
On April 8, 1900, at the age of 20, Fields married for the first and only time. Her name was Harriet "Hattie" Hughes. Hattie worked alongside Fields in his vaudeville juggling act as his assistant. In the act, Fields would humorously blame her when he made a mistake.
Hattie was well-educated and tutored Fields in reading and writing (his own education had been very limited). The couple had a son together in 1904 named William Claude Fields, Jr. Although Fields was devoutly anti-religion, because of Hattie's influence, he agreed to have his son baptized.
Although Fields faithfully supported his wife and son for 40 years, he called them "vultures" who were after his money and he very rarely saw them. Fields and Hattie never obtained a legal divorce.
For seven years during the 1920's, Fields shared an apartment with Ziegfeld showgirl, Bessie Poole. Bessie's beauty and quick wit attracted Fields. She also bore him a son -William Rexford Fields Morris- born in 1917.
Although Fields never publicly acknowledged the son, he sent Bessie a check every month. Fields dutifully supported his son until 1926. In 1927, by a mutually agreed-upon negotiation, Fields paid Bessie a lump sum of $20,000. This money she accepted, on the condition she sign an affidavit stating "W.C. Fields is not the father of my child." But when Bessie died in 1928, Fields took responsibility and continued to support his son until he was 19.
Friends said of Fields that he changed mistresses every seven years, but the truth is that few of his loves ever lasted that long. His stinginess, his drinking and his unwarranted suspicion were more than most women could take.
In Hollywood, Fields began the practice of hiring detectives to follow his girlfriends. One of them, a New York showgirl, fell in love with her detective and married him.
In 1932, when Fields was around 53 years old, he was introduced to Carlotta Monti, a 24-year-old, dark-haired, beauty of Mexican-Italian-Spanish descent. Fields saw her, bowed low and doffed his stovepipe hat. "It is a pleasure, my dusky beauty," he said, little knowing that he was meeting the great love of his life.
Fields and Carlotta came to adore one another. She gave him the pet nickname of "Woody." She loved Fields so much she was able to put up with his eccentricities, his excessive alcohol consumption, his jealousy and his frugality.
In her book W.C. Fields and Me, Monti described their love life: "Beginning with our first intimate night together...it was ecstasy…Woody seemed starved for love and affection, and I gave it to him in large quantities."
"He was as much a perfectionist in his lovemaking as he was in his juggling," she wrote (Fields was an expert juggler).
However, Fields' alcohol intake eventually disrupted, then ended his sex drive forever. Even after their lovemaking days ended, the two maintained a close friendship and she became his closest confidante. Fields arranged for Carlotta to be given small roles in a few of his films (as anyone in Hollywood knows, this is a sure sign that an actor is crazy about a woman or is indebted to her).
Carlotta was a kind and considerate partner to Fields. Knowing of his insomnia and how he loved the sound of rain coming down, she was known to take the house garden hose and spray the water against his bedroom window to give him comfort. Carlotta put up with Fields because of her deep love for him, for 14 years.
W.C. Fields and Carlotta Monti in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.
Fields was a handful. Sometimes he would deliberately leave piles of money around the house to test her. Wise to him, she would add $5 to the pile to confuse him when he re-counted the money.
When it came her turn to be followed by one of Fields' hired detectives, she responded by leading the man on long, meandering drives around the California countryside, knowing that Fields would be charged by the mile. As soon as he got the first bill from the detective agency, Fields ended the surveillance.
Extremely distrustful and very paranoid of the human race in general, Fields was a borderline misanthrope. Carlotta Monti was probably as close as he ever got to truly loving another human being.
Fields' spent his final days in a sanitarium, dying of his own excess of alcohol consumption. During these last days, it is reputed that Carlotta got hold of a hose on the sanitarium grounds and sprayed the water against Fields' window to give him comfort. This touching scene is recreated in the 1976 movie W.C. Fields and Me (starring Rod Steiger and Valerie Perrine).
When Fields died, on Christmas day in 1946, his final words were: "G*****n the whole friggin' world and everyone in it but you, Carlotta."