Talk is cheap, whisky costs money

“What I am about to relate is the unassailed truth, and my good friend Gregory La Cava will bear witness. He was visiting me at a sanitarium where I was recuperating from a collection of malaises. As I say, I hadn’t touched alcohol in any form for three months. As we sat there on the porch sunning ourselves I glanced at some nearby trees and suddenly saw rearing up in them a herd of gigantic dogs as big as elephants–bigger. They were frothing at the mouth and rearing fiercely. On each dog’s back was a little man with a flowing beard, and wearing a long green coat and a tall hat. Each little man carried under his arm a vicious looking Assegai.

Artist’s impression.

“You can imagine my consternation when the dogs turned in concert and leaped out of the trees. They headed straight for me with loud outcries, and in my sober condition I could plainly see that they were intent on my destruction. My first thought, of course, was to warn La Cava. I might not be able to escape the terrible fate so rapidly approaching, because I had bum legs, but at least I could tell La Cava to get the hell out of there. I was about to scream for him to fly for his life when a thought struck me. Who is La Cava, I thought, to escape death while I sit here and take it? If he’s a friend of mine he ought to be glad to expire with me. So I held my tongue.

“The dogs and the little men with the Assegais were almost at my throat when they fortunately turned aside ever so little. I felt their hot breath on my face. I could hear their hoofs pounding, the Assegais clanking on the metal harness and they brushed my sleeve as they lumbered past. An unfeeling fellow, La Cava all this time had been blissfully unaware of his grave danger.”

~ From WC Fields By Himself, edited by Richard J Fields. You can find this passage in the index under LaCava, Gregory, narrowly escapes death 151-52.

A Fieldsian Forgotten this Thursday, over at The Daily Notebook. And as an added bonus, here’s a cartoon by Mr La Cava from his animation days — it’s not quite like anything else. It has some of the clean-line elegance of Winsor McKay and some of the goofy/sinister weirdness of the Fleischer Bros. But it’s its own thing.

17 Responses to “Talk is cheap, whisky costs money”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    WCF was a very bad influence on GLC, alcohol-wise; but they were an effective symbiotic creative team, for sure.

    Nice to learn that he (like Tashlin) began as an animator.

  2. David Boxwell Says:

    “Fruit Sundae”: 1919 is very early in the history of “panze humor” on screen.

    La Cava’s cartooniest live action film (that I know): THE HALF NAKED TRUTH (32). But Mischa Auer’s gorilla act in MY MAN GODFREY is a great example, too, of the aesthetic.

  3. I’m not sure when Chaplin’s first gay joke was, but he did ’em A LOT.

    Agree that Half Naked is La Cava’s most loony and broad comedy. I’d like to see more of his silents, they seem pretty reliable, whereas of course his talkies do vary between brilliant and dullish.

  4. The Half-Naked Truth fully deserves to be remade, especially in light of the fact that Andy’s famous 15 minutes of fame is now down to about six.

    The trouble is we have no one as lively as Lupe Velez or the great Lee Tracy.

  5. Christopher Says:

    ha ha..that sounds like a movie script Uncle Bill would try to peddle in Never Give A Sucker An Even Break or The Bank Dick.
    One of my favorite La Cava delights.

  6. Certainly nobody can talk as fast as Tracy today, it seems. Today’s celebrity culture may actually be beyond satire…

  7. With William Powell, back when he was as much of a villain as Warner Oland. It’s a very lightweight, fun film, with a lot of silly moments. Wish I had seen a better copy, mine was many generations away from the original.

  8. Christopher Says:

    Splatter My Pulse

  9. david wingrove Says:

    David E – thanks for the wondrous link to Dennic Cooper and Visconti! For me, Visconti was the greatest film-maker of all time and films are GOOD to the extent they resemble Visconti and BAD to the extent they do not resemble Visconti. I admit that’s a deeply subjective and personal view, but there you are.

    As for WCF and his gay jokes…In NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK he’s discussing art with a somewhat butch lady. He looks at her and snarls – “Yah know what a Van DYKE is, dontcha?”

    Objectionable man!

  10. Fields offscreen had a marked unpleasant side, but onscreen I usually find him fairly lovable. Even the Van Dyke joke strikes me as more censor-baiting than hate speech. (Fields took care to cultivate Joe Breen’s friendship, the better to disarm him).

    But I admit Fields’ films do not greatly resemble those of Visconti. Though maybe they dip a toe in the Felliniesque at times.

  11. Favorite WC Fields – Fatal Glass of Beer.

  12. Here’s some of Fields’ radio work. Further Adventures of Larson E. Whipsnade is highly recommended, very proto-Firesign Theatre.

  13. Tom — yes, that one is simply incredible. Once watched it with friends, most of whom loved it, but one sat stony-faced. And we discovered it’s completely impossible to explain why that film is funny.

    Chuck, thanks! Will have a listen.

  14. There are some very discordant moments in Fatal Glass, like Fields with the giant elks careening past, and the dulcimer; at first he just bangs on it.

    “not fit for man or beast!”

  15. Well, playing a dulcimer with mittens on can;t be easy! Fields himself learned to juggle in gloves. so I guess he had an inkling.

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