If you know anything about W.C. Fields, you know he was a curmudgeon, a misanthropic, a drunk, and a hater of children and dogs. Actually most of that was an act, he was at heart a softy and he left a sizable portion of his estate to an orphanage. Before talkies, Fields’ forte was as a comedic juggler. After talkies, it was simply being one of the funniest men who ever spoke on screen.
However, it’s true he was a world class drinker and he was good friends with another legendary lush, John Barrymore, who today most people only know vaguely as the grandfather of Drew.
Barrymore was a great actor, considered the finest Hamlet of his generation. He also appeared in the first feature film with a soundtrack (music only), Don Juan, released thirteen months before The Jazz Singer.
Anyway, Fields died on Christmas Day in 1946 (Charlie Chaplin, that other famous comedian, also died on Christmas in 1977), and somehow I have a feeling that “Bill” had a love/hate affair with the holiday. No doubt he loved the sentiment but hated the commercialism.
A prolific writer (he wrote many of the screenplay for his films), Fields wrote thousands of letters to friends, admirers, studio executives, etc. Most of are hilarious, of course, and they are collected in the book, W. C. Fields By Himself. One year he sat down at Christmastime and wrote a letter to his good friend, Mr. Barrymore. This is how it came out:
I have been having a few drinks and I thought I would drop you a note. About this time of the year I usually take a moment to write a few letters to my good friends; the time when I remember all the good things and indulge myself to the extent of getting a little sentimental.
It is a blustery evening, but here in my Den it’s coz-zy and comfuable. I’m sitting before a nice open fire with my typewriter, John, sort of haff lissning to the radio and slowly sipping a nice, very dry double martini. I only wish you were here, John, and since you are not, the least I cando is to toast to your health and happy-ness, so time out, old pal – while I bend my elbow to you.
I just took time to mix another Martini and while I was out in the kitchen I thought of all the time I would waste this evening if I went out to mix another drink every once in a while, so I just made up a big pitcher of martinis and brought it back in with me so I’d have it right here beside me and wouldn’t have to waste time mixing more of them. So now I’m all set and here goes. Besides Mratinis are great drrink. For some reson they never seeme to effec me in the slightest. and drink thrm all day long. So here goes. The greatest think in tje whole wokld, John, is friendship. Anebelieve me pal you are the gertests pal anybody ever had. do you remembre all the swell times we had together “pal??/ The wonderful camping trisp. I*ll never forget the time yoi put the dead skunnk in my sleeping bag. He ha Bow how we laughued didn we. Never did the stin kout out od it. Bit it was pretty funnya anywayh. Nev I still laught about it onec in a whole. Not as muhc as i used to. But what the heck & after all you still my beset old pal john,. and if a guy can’t have a luaghg on good treu friend onc in a whiel waht the heck. Dam pitcher is impty so I just went outand ma deanotherone and I sure wisch you wee here old pal to help me drink these marotomi because they are simply sdeliuccious. Parn me whil i lieft my glass to you good helahth oncemroe John because jjhon Barrymroe best pal I goo Off cours why a pal would do a dirty thinb liek puting a skunnk in nother pals sleeping bagg I&m dash if I kno. That was a lousi thing for anybodyhdy todo an only a frist clas heel would di it. Jhon, wasn a dm dam bit funney. Stil stinkkks. And if you thininkit funny you’re a dirity lous anasd far as Im concerned you cn go plum to hell and stya ther you dirty lous. To hel with ouy.
Yours very truly,