To most people W. C. Fields is an instantly recognisable figure, aclassic icon of film comedy. But the full and true tale of the life and art of the clown who dubbed himself 'The Great Man' has, astonishingly, never been told. This is the first book to relate in detail William Claude Dukenfield's artistic path to the cinema, disentangling the facts from the pack of lies and myths mischievously nurtured by Fields himself. Following meticulous research in a host of archives, including the personal scrapbooks of Fields himself, Simon Louvish lovingly traces the origins of Fields' comedy in his self-authored vaudeville sketches, then follows his career from stage to silent screen, revealing the sources of his great talkie routines, and highlighting his later tragic struggle, against studio heads,censorship, alcohol addiction and illness, to create some of the greatest gems of screen humour.
Simon Louvish was born in Glasgow in 1947 and misspent his youth growing up in Israel between 1949 and 1968, including a stint as an army cameraman from 1965 to 1967. Having decamped to the London School of Film Technique in 1968, Simon became involved in the production of a series of independent documentary films about apartheid in South Africa, dictatorship in Greece, and general mayhem in Israel-Palestine from 1969 to 1973. He also published a memoir of his Israeli days entitled A Moment of Silence in 1979. Since 1985 Simon has published a series of novels set mainly in the Middle East, including the acclaimed Blok trilogy (The Therapy of Avram Blok, City of Blok and The Last Trump of Avram Blok). His most recent Middle East novel, The Days of Miracles and Wonders, was published in the UK in 1997 by Canongate. Since 1979, he has also been teaching film at the London International Film School and writing for various newspapers and magazines. Simon Louvish is the author of a trilogy of definitive biographies of the great clowns of screen comedy, including Man on the Flying Trapeze (1997), the story of W. C. Fields, Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers (1999), and Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy (2001), all published by Faber & Faber. Further film biographies include Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett(2003), Mae West: It Ain't No Sin (2005), and Cecil B. DeMille and The Golden Calf (2007).