James Curtis

Theatre Library Association Award -
Special Jury Prize

“This is by far the fullest, fairest, and finally most touching account of this sad, solipsistic life that we have yet had.” - Richard Schickel, New York Times Book Review

“Curtis fluently traces the entire arc of Fields’ messy, overstuffed life. The details are irresistible... he does an excellent job detailing the meticulous craftsmanship and relentless hard work through which Fields, who began his career as a mute juggler in vaudeville, became a comedian renowned for his verbal dexterity.” - The New Yorker

“There have been other books about Fields, of course, but none seem so richly detailed nor so scrupulously researched... 'W. C. Fields' is a joy to read, a masterful biography, perfectly paced and full of fine surprises.” - Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle

W. C. Fields

The legend of W. C. Fields has persisted for more than half a century—the gin-guzzling misanthrope about whom Leo Rosten famously said, “Any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.”

But there was another Fields, the man behind the character of the red-nosed card sharp, who wrote, directed, and performed in some of the most enduring comedies of all time, including "It’s a Gift", "My Little Chickadee", and "The Bank Dick". Fields’ career spanned the whole of the 20th Century—first in burlesque, then vaudeville, the legitimate stage, silent pictures, talkies, radio, books, and recordings, and only death prevented him from moving into the promising medium of television, where he found an entirely new audience in the turbulent 1960s and 70s.

He was one of the cultural icons surrounding The Beatles on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and in 1980 he was honored with his own postage stamp.

Now James Curtis reveals the man behind the myth, telling the story of Fields’ life and work as it’s never been told before. With exclusive and unrestricted access to the Great Man’s papers and manuscripts, he shows us the passion and intellect that fueled Fields’ creative drive, and the broken family that gave such a bitter edge to his comedy. Drawing from interviews with over 50 friends and co-workers, as well as the comedian’s own recently-rediscovered notes for his autobiography, Curtis vividly details Fields’ Philadelphia childhood, his first tentative steps as a performer, his arduous climb to the very pinnacle of show business, and his struggle to regain his footing once talking pictures had seemingly put an end to his career.

He also shows the evolution of one of the world’s most recognizable figures, whose nasal voice and shifty mannerisms helped make him, in the words of James Agee, “the toughest and most warmly human of all screen comedians.”

Published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Softcover edition published by Back Stage Books, 2004.

Now available as an eBook at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Inscribed hardcover copies are available for sale via this website. Please hit the CONTACT ME button for details.

Selected Works

A celebration of one of film's most potent visualists!
"James Curtis’s informative and beautifully written book does a thorough job of bringing Menzies to life.” - Martin Scorsese
An actor's life like no other!
"A monumental, definitive biography of one of the finest film actors in the history of the medium." - Kirkus Reviews
Now available as eBooks!
"The definitive book about America's most profound comedian." - John Cleese
"One of the most entertaining and engrossing film biographies I've encountered." - Judith Crist
New edition!
"Essential for all who care about the cinema." - Kevin Brownlow
Now on DVD!
With commentaries by Gloria Stuart and James Curtis.