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Misquoting Fields

March 23, 1986

Leo Rosten, in his book "The Power of Positive Nonsense," makes a persuasive claim to authorship of the famous remark about W. C. Fields. He describes a banquet in Hollywood in 1939 that was to be a roast of W. C. Fields as guest of honor.

When the master of ceremonies called on Rosten to say a few words, he developed acute stage fright. Prodded in the ribs by Red Skelton's elbow, he finally got to his feet, but vocal paralysis set in and left him mute.

Then a hoarse whisper from George Burns, 'Say something!' mobilized some residual inner strength, and he heard himself saying, "The only thing I can say about Mr. W. C. Fields, whom I have admired since the day he advanced upon Baby LeRoy with an icepick, is this: Any man who hates dogs and babies can't be all bad."

The ensuing explosion of hilarity and applause was thunderous, and the crack now belongs to the ages.

However, he adds, somewhat ruefully, "Hardly a week passes in which I do not run across some reference to 'Fields' immortal crack.' But it was mine. Mine, I tell you, mine !"

There was a name scrawled at the bottom of this nicely typed letter, but no one around here could read it. The best our ace graphologists could come up with was Thayer Smith. Normally we'd toss out such a near-anonymous letter because, despite our weekly admonition, this letter writer failed to include his/her full name, address and phone number. If you wrote this letter and are not named Thayer Smith, drop us a note and we'll give you your due. You other guys can study that little box in the corner before you mail us your missives.

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