It's an unusual measure of the reverence for W.C. Fields that many places he publicly scorned are now basking in his ridicule.
If there was one thing that Fields, on stage, hated more than doctors, the IRS, water, dogs and children, it was Philadelphia. That didn't stop Philadelphia from using a poster portrait of the old curmudgeon to promote an industrial redevelopment program.
In radio shows and in a 1940 movie, "The Bank Dick," Fields referred to the small California city of Lompoc as "Lom-pock" (as in pocket ), although Lompocals have always pronounced it "Lom-poke" (as in slow ). That hasn't stopped Lompoc from passing a resolution stating that for three days of next week, Friday through Oct. 18, the official pronunciation of the town name will be changed to "Lom-pock."
It dignifies, finally, the contemner of Fields, who died in 1946. It acknowledges a pronunciation that, thanks to the movie, everybody outside of Lompoc has presumed to be the correct version anyway. It's also some idea of the totality of "A Weekend With W. C. Fields," a first-time, nostalgic promotion of the Lom-poke Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The event is designed to bring pleasure, profit and maybe new attention to Lom-pock now that the space shuttle program--and its billion-dollar spillover from nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base--is on hold. It will offer three days of Fields movies, parades, dog and baby shows--and a competition unrivaled in drama (as Prof. Eustace McGargle might claim) since the great kumquat famine of Hoosic Falls in '33. It will be a golf tournament.
And the first foursome on the tee at 10 a.m. Sunday will be the four grandsons of W. C. Fields.
William Claude Fields III is a corporate attorney for Campbell's Soup Co. Allen Fields is a county contract administrator in San Diego. Ron Fields is an author and television producer. Everett Fields is an attorney, also a former Los Angeles city prosecutor.
In a manner, the Fields brothers are the festival. For they (plus granddaughter Harriet Fields, a New York nursing-home administrator) are in partnership as W. C. Fields Productions Inc., a watchdog over rights, royalties and revenues due their grandfather.
Lom-pock Valley Chamber of Commerce might have had the idea for a festival. But it was W. C. Fields Productions that approved the concept and licensed the chamber to use the name, movies and souvenirs of the first Great One.
"It fell upon us when our father (W. C. Fields Jr.) died in 1971, and, frankly, I was appalled by the idea," Everett Fields explained. "My initial reaction was that we were using another human being.
"I changed my mind with the realization that it was W. C. Fields' business to exploit his personality. Who was I to say it was wrong for him to be exploited--but in the dignified way he chose--when dead?"
Much later, in 1983, Fields' grandchildren joined relatives and heirs of Lou Costello, Elvis Presley and Stan Laurel in successfully working for passage of a state law that extended the rights of heirs to grant commercial use of a name or likeness for 100 years after the celebrity's death.
"My grandfather created so much laughter and humor for the world, and I'm proud of that," Fields added. "I won't stand by while somebody disparages his image."
In his day, W. C. Fields sold licenses for the manufacture of neckties, plaster busts and, on the old Warwick Hotel in New York, a gargoyle in his image.
In their day, W. C. Fields Productions has issued 33 licenses for their client's name and likeness in commercials for such firms or products as Arby's, Frito-Lay, Hershey's chocolate bars and Ford Motor Co.
In death, W. C. Fields remains a business with a six-figure annual income. That's the best of it. The worst, Everett noted, is that "he's been dead 40 years and is still paying taxes."
A Weekend With W. C. Fields, Oct. 16-18, Lompoc. Program and ticket information: (805) 736-4567.