Saturday, October 15, 2005
Late one night on the set of Francis Martin's Tillie and Gus, W. C. Fields found himself shooting a scene in a diver's costume. According to the script something had gone wrong and Fields was to be hauled up in a diver's bell, half dead, and then gasp, "is there a doctor in the house?" Instead of uttering the scripted line, however, Fields pointed at his gigantic diving footwear and exclaimed: "[Boxer] Primo Carnera's carpet slippers!" Fields was promptly reprimanded for changing the line. "Why? That's funny," he replied. "Everybody knows about Carnera's big feet." Nonetheless, with the hour approaching midnight, it was agreed that the scene should be reshot.
Coming up a second time, Fields pointed to his feet again and quipped: "Charlie Frobisher's bedroom slippers!" Again, he was scolded for changing the line. "What's the matter with you?" Fields cried. "Don't you know the name 'Charlie Frobisher' always gets a laugh? People will howl at it!" The director, astonished by Fields's terrible judgement, began to wonder whether he was losing his mind. As the clock struck midnight, Fields was sent into the tank again. Upon rising this time, he promptly spoke the proper line and went home.
The explanation soon became apparent: Fields's contract stipulated that he be paid an $800 bonus every time he worked past midnight!
[Meredith R. Miller]