Gary Johnson wrote:Ron Fields was already busy humanizing his great-grandfather back in the mid-70's when his book came out. And he probably had a rougher road to hoe at that time since WC Fields was at the height of his revival popularity, his films played constantly in the major markets and his personae was known by young and old alike, so it was just easier for the general public to just assume that he was a drunken, misanthrope in real life.
I probably have gotten more out of WC FIELDS BY HIMSELF than any other book written about Fields, since that was the book which stated that his work was his life and that he was a perfectionist about it. And when ever anyone got in his way from achieving that perfection he would lash out to all and sundry. But Ron Fields was not a researcher. James Curtis is so he was able to flesh out everything that had been written about before and, as Richard states, dig deeper and give it more nuance. I do admire Curtis' book.
And as I have stated here before on more than one occasion, I do not admire Mr. Louvish as I have never found even one new interesting fact in any of the myriad of film biographies (he does write in other genres also..) that he cranked out in a ten year span. Thankfully he has ran out of comedians to re-write about.
I could see why Curtis was drawn to Spenser Tracy as a subject (outside of the fact that no one had written a full blown biography on the man before) - like Fields, Tracy was the consummate professional, he had a very small circle of friends and his life was his work. However unlikable he comes across is mitigated by me since he is so obviously a man who was uncomfortable in his own skin. I've known more than a few people in my lifetime like that. And it is not the first time that someone so painfully shy in real life would turn to performing as one's vocation. Add to that his inability to communicate with his own son, his addiction to alcohol and his Catholic guilt, and you've got one messed up human being.
And the only reason that we are subjecting ourselves to reliving Tracy's pain is because he was very good at what he did. Just like Bill Fields.
Ron Fields opened the Family Archives in the 70’s following a mean and protracted court battle over Fields will and estate, which didn’t get settled until the late 60’s (and is part of what makes Jim Curtis’s book interesting as he details it there) and indeed was one of the people most responsible for getting the real story told. W.C. FIELDS-BY HIMSELF is indeed a most important book for any Fields fan, because it is nearly all Fields words, collected from his papers by Ron, and does give you insight into Fields working methods and bits of his personal life, however, the problem is that Ron Fields didn’t put any of it into perspective, and because he was a family member, he also couldn’t tell the whole story for obvious personal reasons. Curtis fills in the blanks deftly on Field’s very complicated personal and family life, and for the most part, doesn’t take sides, but after reading Curtis’s book, you have a much better understanding of why Fields held the attitudes that he did.
Sadly, both Ron Fields and Jim Curtis’s books are currently out of print.
I know everyone loves to trash Simon Louvish, and when he got into his “writing a book a year” mode, he deserved everything he got, but his Fields book was one of his first, and though it is not as good a book as Curtis’s, it did bring things farther along in getting the real story out, and it came out before Curtis’s book. I also like Louvish’s book on the Marx Brothers, MONKEY BUSINESS, because it is still the only book out on the Marx’s that details their whole careers in every media, and their early years as well. Louvish’s big interests are vaudeville and family ties, so go figure he’d excel with the Brothers Marx. After that, yes, his books fall below the mark rather fast, but still occasionally have things of interest. He had interesting things to day about Laurel and Hardy’s early years, but by the time he got to their film careers, it’s all quoting someone else. His Sennett book was worthless, as was his Demille book. I don’t think I’ve bothered with any others.
RICHARD M ROBERTS