W.C. Fields

Joseph Weber (1867-1942)
and Lew Fields (1867-1941)
Alfred J. Frueh, 1915-1922
National Portrait Gallery: gift of the children of Alfred J. Frueh:
Barbara Frueh Bornemann, Robert Frueh and Alfred Frueh, Jr.

Born to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, Joseph Weber and Lew Fields grew up together in the back alleys of the Bowery. By ages nine or ten they were trying out their own "Dutch" ("German or Deutsch") vaudeville act, performing at local Elks clubs dime museums and imitating the leading ethnic, two-man teams that dominated the day. They openeed their own music hall in 1896 and featured "knockabout" (i.e. slapstick) musical comedy. Like Harrigan and Hart, "Weberfields" capitalized on portraying the typically American voices they heard around them.

Splitting from Weber in 1904, Lew Fields went on to become one of Broadway's most influential impresarios, working with such performers as Nora Bayes and Maria Dressier, composer Victor Herbert and producer J.J. Shubert. By 1911 he was commonly referred to as the reigning "King of Musical Comedy."

Sara and Armond Fields