Sid Fields

Active - 1936 - 1975  |   Born - Feb 5, 1898 in Milwaukee, WI  |   Died - Sep 28, 1975 in Las Vegas, NV  |   Genres - Comedy

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Bald-headed, nervous, blustery, overbearing character actor/comedian Sidney Fields is best remembered today as the resident foil for Abbott & Costello on their television program The Abbott & Costello Show. Those two seasons, however, were but a tiny portion of a 64-year career in show business that took Fields from tent shows and carnivals as a teenager, through burlesque and vaudeville, and into movies and television, where he worked alongside the likes of Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason. Sidney Fields (who was sometimes credited as Sid Fields) was born in Milwaukee, WI, in 1898, and started doing comedy in local theaters as a boy. By his teens, he was working carnivals and tent shows in the Midwest, and he later became partner in a comedy team with Jack Greenman. The burlesque and vaudeville duo eventually made it to New York City and was cast by Harold Minsky in his follies, but the team was split up when Fields headed for Hollywood to work on a feature film. He was kept busy on stage, radio, and occasionally in movies for the next 30 years, working with Eddie Cantor as a writer and actor, and then with Ben Blue, and with Rudy Vallee on the radio, and later with Fred Allen and Milton Berle. In movies during the 1930s, Fields appeared in small roles in a pair of comedies, Strike Me Pink and Love Is News, and served as the assistant director on one of Cantor's funniest (yet least known) films, Ali Baba Goes to Town. He was mostly busy in radio and on stage during the late '30s and early '40s, often playing a character referred to as "Guffy" in his appearances with Cantor. Starting in 1945, however, Fields began an eight-year association with Abbott & Costello, initially in a small role in The Naughty Nineties. He was almost lost in that somewhat overloaded and frantic costume musical-comedy, but in Little Giant, Fields' performance was one of the funniest parts of a decidedly unfunny movie, portraying a bad-tempered customer at Lou Costello's roadside filling station, in a scene in which every word that Costello says, no matter how innocuous of conciliatory, provokes an argument from Fields. And in Mexican Hayride, Fields' scene as an overly talkative reporter interviewing the hapless Costello was a highlight of the movie. During the early '50s, Fields showed up on the Colgate Comedy Hour (usually with Cantor) and The Frank Sinatra Show (often with his partner Ben Blue), but it was his two seasons on The Abbott & Costello Show, playing the duo's short-tempered, tight-fisted landlord (named "Sidney Fields") that he achieved immortality. With his bald-headed physiognomy and beady, rolling eyes, coupled with a deep, blustery, expressive voice, Fields was the perfect nemesis for the baby-faced Lou Costello, tormenting him as the greedy, put-upon landlord, but also just as likely to get a pie (or an entire cake, or even half-a-watermelon) in the face. Whether he was doing a slow burn, or seething in anger over some mishap caused by Costello, Fields was often the funniest thing on the show, and his scenes were guaranteed to elicit hysterical laughter. Equally funny were his appearances in other roles on the show, often wearing a toupee or other make-up variation -- usually he played one of Mr. Fields' cousins or brothers (Friendly Fields the used car dealer, Sporty Fields the sporting goods store owner, Melonhead Fields the attorney), but occasionally did classic burlesque shtick with Costello, most notably a brilliantly timed version of "Slowly I Turned..." in which, for the punch line, Fields ended up playing two roles on screen, doubled in one of them. Those filmed shows became his legacy, though Fields continued to work on network television for another dozen years, including regular appearances on top-rated programs like The Jackie Gleason Show, where he often did sketches with Gleason that were essentially the same bits he'd done with Costello. He also worked with Red Buttons and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Fields moved to Las Vegas in the 1960s, initially to work as part of Pat Moreno's Artists & Models revue, and he retired to the city in his sixties. He died of lung cancer in 1975 at the age of 77, but his work lived on after him in the hearts and minds of comedians and their audiences everywhere -- in 1994, Fields' work was singled out for praise by Jerry Seinfeld in his television special Abbott & Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld, who went out of his way to cite Sidney Fields as a well-spring of beautifully timed comedy.

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