|W.C. Fields Productions, Inc.|
|Allen A. Fields|
|Dr. Harriet A. Fields|
|Ronald J. Fields|
Allen A. Fields
Journey to Iola
Allen A. Fields
I kept thinking of the scene from “International House” when WC asks, “Is this Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas City, Kansas?” as I landed at the Kansas City International Airport. The answer, in my case, was Kansas City, Missouri as I was on my way to Iola, Kansas where the Buster Keaton Celebration was to take place on September 22 and 23, 2005. The theme for this years event was Buster Keaton And W.C. Fields 2005, The Comedy of the Social Misfit. This was the 13th annual Keaton Celebration hosted by the Bowlus Fine Arts Center in Iola with funding from the Kansas Humanities Committee. Past celebrations honored Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, Ernie Kovacs and others. This year they proudly honored W.C. Fields. My sister Harriet and I were happy and honored to attend and participate in the festivities to honor the legacy of our grandfather.
Iola, population of about 6,200, is about 110 miles southwest of Kansas City, Missouri I was told, but I couldn’t help but ask myself ‘why hold a celebration at a place if not in the middle of nowhere, it’s pretty darn close’. I was to discover that Buster Keaton was born in Piqua (pronounced “pick way”) in a town of 80 people which is a mere 5 miles from Iola. Because Piqua cannot accommodate celebration of any size the Bowlus Fine Arts Center in Iola hosted the celebration which over the course of two days had over 600 fans and visitors to the event. This was a new record for attendance for the Keaton Celebration which I would like to think had a great deal to do with honoring W.C. Fields.
The “Lompoc Picayune – Intelligencer” was prominently displayed in the lobby of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center and information regarding the existence of the Fan Club and applications were also available for those interested. When the opportunity presented itself Harriet and I mentioned the W.C. Fields Fan Club and encouraged involvement.
Dr.Frank Scheide from the University of Arkansas along with Mary Martin of Iola were the Co-Chairs of the event. During the course of the two days “W.C. Fields Straight Up” the documentary by Ron Fields and Joe Adamson was screened as well as “Pool Sharks”, “It’s the Old Army Game”, “The Dentist”, and “The Old Fashioned Way” in their entirety.
Dr. Scheide discussed “Pettifogger Fields and Pilgrim Keaton: Two Comic Journeys from the Alien Edge to the Human Heart”. Hooman Mehran, Co-Editor of “The Chaplin Review” presented “Eddie Cline: Transforming Keaton and Resuscitating Fields” and Eric Grayson, Film Historian and Collector, presented rare W.C. Fields film footage. Joe Adamson narrated “W.C. Fields Straight Up” and was very informative during the Question and Answer period that followed. David Macleod, Keaton Historian and Founder of the “Blinking Buzzards Society (UK)”, presented “From Vaudeville to Video: Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields” “A Fatal Misalliance” was presented by Scott Eyman, Noted Film Historian, Author, Journalist and Critic and Dr. John Tibbets, Professor of Film, University of Kansas, discussed “Balancing Act: W.C. Fields and the Human Condition”.
“The Dr. St. George’s Medicine Show Radio Theatre of the Air” and the “Mount Alto Motion Picture Orchestra” added comic relief, and musical accompaniment, respectively, to the event.
Harriet and I were treated like royalty by a very appreciative and informed audience. Many people approached us and wished to express their appreciation for the work and art of W.C. Fields which we all share. We were asked to participate in a Question and Answer period regarding our thoughts of W. C. Fields, his legacy, our growing up, and general personal questions regarding “the Great Man”. Harriet was most eloquent in her views and thoughts regarding the W.C. Fields heritage and how it is most important to all that we preserve and foster this icon of American humor; a treasure that is our responsibility to pass on to the next generations.
Finally, after proving that the family juggling genes have passed down to our generation, we were surprised by the Keaton Committee by their honoring the W.C. Fields Family for preserving the heritage of American comedy. We were awarded “The Keaton”, not to be confused with “The Oscar”. It was a sincere and coveted honor by our family to receive this award in recognition for the our efforts and the W.C. Fields Fan Club efforts in fostering and promoting the legacy of W.C. Fields. Much appreciation to you all .