As a public health precaution due to COVID-19, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are temporarily closed to the public as of Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. We are not announcing a reopening date at this time.
Harry Warnecke, 1900 - 1984
Lee Elkins, active 1930s–1950s
William Claude Fields, 29 Jan 1880 - 25 Dec 1946
Color carbro print
Image: 42.3 x 32.6 cm (16 5/8 x 12 13/16")
Sheet: 43.7 x 33.9 cm (17 3/16 x 13 3/8")
Mount: 50.7 x 40.7 cm (19 15/16 x 16")
Mat: 71.1 x 55.9 cm (28 x 22")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Elsie M. Warnecke
Restrictions & Rights
Born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Convinced that being "a definite personality" was one of the keys to stardom, W. C. Fields invented a larger-than-life persona as a loveable misanthrope that was part and parcel of the comic characters he portrayed. After an early career as a masterful juggler on the vaudeville circuit, Fields found his way to Broadway in 1915, where he joined Florenz Ziegfeld’s celebrated Follies and honed his comedic skills. He scored a hit as a small-time con artist in the Broadway musical Poppy (1923) and reprised the role in D. W. Griffith’s Sally of the Sawdust (1925)—just one of the many silent films that showcased his talent. Fields made the transition to talking pictures with ease, delivering memorable performances in movies such as David Copperfield (1935), The Bank Dick (1940), and My Little Chickadee (1940), for which he wrote the original screenplay with co-star Mae West.