Mother of Pearl! W.C. Fields' great-granddaughter studying accounting, of all things, at Fairfield
"It was so weird," says Stacy Fields '01, recalling the first group meeting with her faculty advisor, Dr. Paul Caster, at last summer's Orientation. "He walked into the classroom and said 'Who's Stacy Fields?' And I thought to myself, 'Oh wow, did I do something wrong already?' "
Quite the opposite. For Dr. Caster, assistant professor of accounting, it was the final coincidence in a day filled with them - and the opportunity to meet the great-granddaughter of W.C. Fields, a 1930s comedian and film star Dr. Caster has admired since his high school and college days.
"As a student, I went to a lot of W.C. Fields' movies," says Dr. Caster. "Over the years, I've acquired many books about him and have most of his films on tape." Caster's memorabilia collection, which began with gifts from various girlfriends in college, includes not only books and movies, but a W.C. Fields candle, a scroll with a famous Fields quote: "Horse sense is what a horse has that keeps him from betting on people," and a W.C. Fields bank.
Fast forward to summer 1997 Orientation. Before meeting with his advisees, Dr. Caster attended a luncheon for parents. "After I sat down, this very friendly fellow took the seat next to me. His name tag said Bill Fields. I thought to myself, 'What the heck? I'll ask if he's related.'" As it turns out, Dr. Caster was sitting next to W.C. (William Claude) Fields' grandson.
"We practically spent the whole lunch talking about W.C. Fields," confesses Dr. Caster. "I kept apologizing to the other parents, but they were really interested, too." Among the topics they discussed was whether the epitaph attributed to W.C., a Philadelphia native, was true: "I'd rather be dead and buried here than alive and living in Philadelphia." Not so, according to grandson Bill. What W.C. really said, upon contemplating his tombstone epitaph, was "I'd rather be in Philadelphia."
When coaxed, Dr. Caster does a more-than-passable voice impersonation of his cinematic hero, one Bill Fields said was better than his own. "W.C. had an incredible wit, and a sense of humor based on innuendo," says Dr. Caster with a grin. "He even invented substitute expressions such as 'Godfrey Daniels' and 'Mother of Pearl' to get around the no swearing policy enforced by movie censors of the day."
For freshman Stacy Fields, being the great-granddaughter of a famous film star isn't accompanied by instant name recognition. "It's fun to have him as part of my heritage," she says, "but not a lot of kids my age know W.C. Fields or his movies." This was not the case, however, for her father. When Bill Fields began his career in the FBI after graduating from law school, the person who gave him his first assignment was more than aware of the connection. Not only did this supervisor know of W.C.'s Philadelphia roots, but also knew of the the actor's deep distrust of banks. Thus, when W.C.'s grandson, Bill, was assigned to the FBI's banking division in Philadelphia, the irony was lost neither on him or anyone else.
For Dr. Caster, both irony and coincidence were at work that Orientation day last June. After his lunch, as he hurried off to meet his advisees, he was eager to use this chance encounter as an ice-breaker for the group. To his amazement, listed on his roster was incoming freshman Stacy Fields. She plans, of all things, to major in accounting. "What," says accounting professor Caster, "do you suppose are the odds of that?!"
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Posted on December 1, 1997