A thorough, insightful study not only of Fields’ film comedies, but of the inner turmoil that fueled his genius.



From the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History series

The final volume of a biographical trilogy captures W.C. Fields’ ascent to Hollywood immortality.

If his movie career had ended with his appearances in silent films between 1925 and 1928, W.C. Fields might only have been remembered as a second-tier talent. “I am at a stage where I cannot get an offer at all,” he wrote his wife after his first, not-too-memorable stint as a film actor. “I have been badly handled and am now out of the movies.” But after returning to Hollywood in 1931, Fields successfully made the transition to sound pictures, leaving an indelible mark on film comedy history with such classics as “It’s a Gift,” “The Bank Dick,” and “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.” Wertheim (W.C. Fields From the Ziegfeld Follies and Broadway Stage to the Screen, 2016, etc.) colorfully and comprehensively captures Fields’ journey from “sacrificial lamb thrust aside” by Hollywood to “American cultural icon” in this final volume of a biographical trilogy. Fields was a “virtuoso comedian…who brought so much laughter to millions while enduring so much anguish,” he writes. The book makes effective use of a newly available archive of Fields’ papers to add texture to its portrait of a man whose life has already been the subject of numerous studies. “I stunk so badly the police came in [the theater] with the impression that someone had been throwing stink bombs around,” Fields wrote of one of his performances. Wertheim focuses mainly on the work, not only showing how Fields used his vaudeville background and vocal gifts to fashion his unique comic routines and persona, but also how iconoclastic many of his films were. “Instead of idealizing the sacrosanct family dining table as a place of tranquility, Fields lampoons it as a place of domestic turmoil,” he observes of “The Bank Dick.” But as the author also vividly shows, Fields’ comic genius cannot be separated from his inner turmoil, which manifested itself in his legendary drinking, his failed relationships with women, and a cantankerous disposition that prompted one director to call him “the most obstinate, ornery son of a bitch I ever tried to work with.” As with so many artists, fame could only go so far to fill the “voids in his life.”

A thorough, insightful study not only of Fields’ film comedies, but of the inner turmoil that fueled his genius.  

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-137-47329-5

Page Count: 428

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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