"It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to."
- W.C. Fields
W.C Fields is arguably one of the greatest comedians of all time. He was the best of both worlds; a wildly talented physical comedian on par with Chaplin or Keaton, and a razor sharp, quick witted verbal master.
Born in 1880, he started on the vaudeville stage as a teen. Billed as "the greatest juggler on earth," he would dazzle early audiences with his insane skills.
He resented only being seen as a juggler and worked his comedic discontent into his act. Soon he moved his way up into the ranks of radio and motion pictures playing his classic character: a "composite of all human weaknesses."
Fields' persona was a mean spirited, drunk, dishonest, lecherous man who hated dogs and children. Audiences ate it up. Because of his inherent likability, Fields was able to push the envelope in ways other entertainers could only dream of.
He was also an early pioneer of owning his intelectual property, going to so far as to put a half-page notice to "nibblers" of his act in a 1919 issue of Variety.
You've definitely heard someone imitate his trademark speech. Mr Magoo was the most obvious rip-off, but other popular cartoons would borrow his unique cadence to sell a joke or three. Fields went to bat to protect and own his material, which contributed directly to his long term success in the industry.
Due to a lifetime of hard drinking and illness, his career slowed down in the 1940s. His final performance was in the spring of 1946, on the NBC radio program The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show.
An atheist, Fields was caught thumbing through the bible in his final months of life. Startled, he replied with a characteristic wink and a smile: "I'm looking for loopholes."