Monday, July 25, 2011

I believe it was W.C. Fields who never said...


Few men have been so frequently misquoted as W.C. Fields, though it has to be said that in many cases, perhaps the majority of cases, it was the man's own fault.
For someone with such a gift for language and such a perfect and idiosyncratic turn of phrase, he was quite bizarrely happy to let studio publicists do his talking for him.
Despite a reputation for extreme difficulty in just about every other department, he was a publicity man's dream: he simply didn't care what supposed quotes they invented for him, or what image of his character they crafted for public consumption.
The popular image of his comic persona, that owes so very little to what is actually to be seen in his wonderful, amazingly subtle and inspired films, was almost entirely studio flim flam, and so were most of the quotes that go with it. The dog-hating, child-hating, woman-hating, whisky-obsessed curmudgeon was the studio Fields. List the most famous Fields quotes you can think of from memory, and chances are most if not all of them will be the work of others.

In the last few years, though, to the legion of phony quotes have been added a few bizarre misattributions.
'Never work with children or animals' is an old, old showbiz maxim that most of us, I had assumed, have been familiar with all our lives. The first time I came across it being attributed to Fields (presumably mistaken for the itself spurious "anyone who hates small dogs and children can't be all bad") was in, of all places, Syd Little's autobiography, and I thought it was just Syd getting himself in a muddle and thought no more of it. But since then I've seen it claimed by three more, increasingly authoritative sources. Now I find it's all over the internet like a rash, including in the imdb.

Quotes written by others in his name are one thing; a well known expression that is vaguely similar to something he was once supposed to have said being inexplicably attributed to him is, I suppose, one thing as well. But this is quite another kind of a thing:

This sign appears outside a pub in Bath.
I have never come across this quote before being attributed to anyone, much less Fields. I have done an internet search, and the only place I have found it in conjunction with Fields's name is on the website of the brewery that owns this pub.
What we would appear to have here, then, is a totally fake quote that somebody has made up, and cynically attributed to Fields on the (erroneous) grounds that it's the sort of thing he might have said, and the assumption that nobody's going to know any better, or care.
Or am I wrong?
Have any readers ever come across this quote attributed to Fields before?