Lux – Poppy, WC Fields. 380307. Featuring WC Fields and Ann Shirley.
WC Fields is a con man, and scam artist who has a nearly grown daughter who he somehow managed to raise to have normal morals and ethics. She wants to run away from the circus that is their lives, and settle down in a nice town. Though she wants the best for her dear old dad, he just isn’t the settling down kind of guy.
Scenes commence to showcase the classic comedy of WC Fields in action. He draws crowds as he parts cash from the folks that are drawn to his trap. He cuts up, and insults in that sly, nasal voice of his. Fields sweet talks the ladies, as he works through some of his famous routines on drinking, and his art of telling the tall tale.
Luck seems to be falling on WCFields when he learns of a story of a rich heiress. The situation fits quite nicely with the age of his own daughter, and he makes plans to pull a swindle to pass his girl off as the missing heiress. Meanwhile, the daughter begins to become romantic with a young fellow. Will this be her chance at happiness, and settling down? Will the daughter go for just one final swindle before she parts ways?
WC Fields is now trying his hand at selling his best snake oil, and convincing the authorities in charge of the estate that his girl is the one they’re looking for. He does a classic job of blowing smoke in answering questions, or in evading questions, as he pushes his daughter as their person.
News, rumors, and gossip spreads that the search for the missing heiress is over. There’s a lot on the line to clinch the deal, and WC Fields, Poppy, doesn’t want the daughter to develop a conscience, or mess things up, so he tells her that he really isn’t her father, and that he found her years ago. Will she believe it? Is he telling the truth for once, or is this just another of his scams?
There’s some solid proof in the form of a locket that is linked to the long lost heiress. WC Fields has suddenly found to be less than trustworthy, and is soon to be run out of town.
In the end, WC Fields is a guy who just can’t settle down, but in providing for the only daughter he has ever known, he has succeeded in connecting her with a fortune, and a nice place to have the settled life she has dreamed of. They part ways with admiration for the other as she begins her settled life, and Poppy hits the road for more adventures at the next carnival.
Notes: The film, Poppy, is the source of that famous line, “Never Give a sucker an even break.” However, the scene from the film can’t be done true justice on a radio show, since it involved a bit of pantomime. WC Fields might not be a name that modern youngsters easily recognize. I’ll bet that as soon as they hear his voice, and listen to his mannerisms, they’ll rapidly recognize the character, which is just as iconic as that trademark moustache and eyebrows of Groucho Marx. Only this is no imitation, no voice actor doing a cartoon impersonation, it’s the real deal.
WC Fields began his entertainment career as a juggler, and is said to not be a drinker. His famous persona as a drinker came about when he would buy the stuff to lure fellow entertainers into his dressing room, or boarding house apartments for socialization. The habit soon developed, and eventually became part of him, and his act. His character is one that tends to hate women and children, most probably due to his failed marriage, and being cut off from his beloved son. It’s just my opinion, but the act may have just been a coping mechanism for him at the loss he felt, and just became one more facet of his character.
The first spoken lines that WC Fields uttered on stage came at the urging of his close friends in the Ziegfeld Follies, Fanny Brice and Ed Winn. It was Ed Winn who wrote his first act, and helped with the transition from having a non-talking act, a dumb act, into one of a comedian.
Though he had success in both films and radio, it wasn’t as satisfying for him. WC Fields had the same lament as many old Vaudevillians, radio and films just didn’t have the direct feedback of applause from a live audience. The old school vaudevillians didn’t know the extent of their work until the film was out, and they attending the showing. At least in radio, live audiences could be brought into the studio for a live performance.
One story I love about the cantankerous WC Fields is that he guarded his privacy. He is said to hide in the bushes outside his home, and when tour guides would bring the public through the upscale residential district to see the homes of the stars, he would shoot at them with a BB gun.
Enjoy the show. It runs a tad short, but it’s because the commercials have been edited out. If you especially like the humor of WC Fields, drop me a line. He never had his own radio show, but he was a regular on the Bergen and McCarthy show, made guest appearances on others, and I actually have a small collection of comedy recordings on glorious 78rpm disks that I could podcast.