MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields by Simon Louvish
Kirkus Star

MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields

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The first serious biography of the legendary comedian in nearly 50 years, and one worthy of its hero. Even people who have never seen a W.C. Fields film probably know him as a man who loved to drink and hated dogs and children. Most likely, they would assume that the onscreen character and the offscreen man were one and the same. But Louvish, in his lively biography, delves beneath the surface and discovers an artist who carefully built this character as a comic construct. The real Fields had nothing against dogs, and, yes, even enjoyed the company of children. (The drinking, however, was authentic.) Louvish, who teaches at the London International Film School, is clearly a Fields fan, and this lends his book a warmth uncommon in show-business biographies. He aims the book at his fellow fans, and uses a chatty, conversational tone: sharing stories and trading opinions and favorite gags over some Fieldsian libation. But the tone doesn't hide the exceptional research he has done. He vividly paints the details of Fields's life and the vaudeville, film, and radio worlds he moved in. Most importantly, in extensively describing Fields's early career, he presents the classic films not as the solitary miracles they appear to be, but as the culmination of an extensive career that saw Fields a major star on the world stage as early as the turn of the century. Louvish is also a novelist (The Silencer, 1993), and in the book's coda (in which he imagines Fields entering heaven and greeting his vaudevillean friends), he demonstrates that even the hokiest of concepts can be moving when presented with passion and commitment. He concludes with a brief but sharply perceived analytical afterword. At last ""the Great Man"" (as Fields called himself, accurately) has a great biography.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton