Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Totie

Totie Fields was loud. Totie Fields was funny.

Oh, Totie Fields was plump, too.

That was part of her schtick, as she barrelled through her act (cleaned up for television, I imagine) on Merv or Sullivan or gagged on Hollywood Squares. There was no self-pity. Freight trains don’t have pity. That was the kind of force she was on stage.

She, Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers may have been the best-known female stand-up comediennes of their day. By “their day,” I mean the 1960s (it was a day when the term “comedienne” was still in vogue) though Fields was singing and joking professionally on stage in Hartford, Connecticut as far back as 1949.
Totie Fields Wants Job
By HAROLD STERN

NEW YORK, March 19—Totie Fields, the queen-sized comedienne who guests on this Sunday's Ed Sullivan Show, would like nothing better than a TV series, preferably from New York.
“But I wouldn't want to star,” she said. “I want to be a second banana. It's just a matter of time. It must happen. There are so few comediennes around, it has to be inevitable.
“It isn't a matter of work,” she continued. “I'm booked through next October in clubs. Finding things to do isn't hard, but finding the right things can sometimes be a problem.”
One thing Totie Fields doesn't believe in for herself is topical humor.
“I dig all kinds of comedy,” she explained, “but I'd rather do basic material. I'd hate to have to depend on today's paper and come up with something strong only to find out that the audience hasn't read today's paper. I think comedy has to be association. Something that has happened or is likely to happen to people in the audience.
She's the Butt
“I do material about myself, not about other people. I made that mistake only once and luckily someone pointed out what was wrong. Even though the audience laughed, they didn't enjoy it. Now I make sure that the premise of my material is honest. People believe me. And no one in the audience can get offended at what I do because I'm the butt. This helps me maintain a warm relationship with my audience.”
Totie, who's been happily married for 14 years, believes that whatever she may look like, a woman entertainer must remain feminine.
“There are too many women who try to be men when they do comedy. A comedienne can't come on with a line like: ‘These are the jokes.’ You can't be hostile and expect your audience to like you. And you can do jokes and still be a woman.”
She demonstrated: “I'm the Elizabeth Taylor of the fat set. I don't worry about my weight (about 170). I don't have to. Everyone else does. But I have trouble holding my weight. I'm a light eater. Every time it gets light out, I eat. . . etc.”
Though she may eventually get her own series, she will be seen exclusively on the Ed Sullivan Show this year. She has two additional appearances booked with Ed after this Sunday.
Completely Relaxed
She was schooled in the Borscht Circuit and feels this sort of background is invaluable to anyone trying to be an entertainer. She seems completely relaxes about her career and apparently places it second in importance to her home and family.
She admits she would not like to live and work in Hollywood.
"But it isn’t all bad,” she said. “I had one funny experience the last time I was out there. George (her husband, George Johnston) and I like to watch television in bed and we were watching a one a.m. movie and I was eating a tremendous turkey leg and having a fine time.
“Then came the commercial break and the announcer said: ‘And stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen, we've got a real treat for you. A little later tonight we're going to have a visit from one of the funniest people in the world.’
“I couldn't wait to hear who it was and just as I turned to George and said: ‘I wonder . . .’ the announcer said: ‘None other than Totie Fields.’
“I screamed, threw the turkey leg in the air, jumped up, got dressed and, believe it or not, we made it to the studio. By the time the film had its next break, there I was sitting with the announcer, cigarette dangling rakishly from my fingers and looking casual.
“But when he asked me, ‘And did you come here directly from work?’ I couldn't resist answering: ‘No, directly from bed.’”
Totie got serious in a lovely feature article in the September 17, 1974 edition of The Honolulu Advertiser. The musing about Totie’s legs ending in wheels is ironic, considering what the future held in store.
Totie Fields
Jewish mother with a gift of laughter

By COBEY BLACK

Advertiser Columnist
A well-endowed blonde, her curves held in check by no more than a string, strolled onto Kahala Beach.
“Let's beat her up,” yelled a dumpy matron in a dressmaker bathing suit. “Let's get a gun and shoot her.” The matron flounced from the surf, shaking a dripping fist. The blonde stared at her, startled to a standstill.
“Off the beach, young lady. Off! Off! This beach is for middle-aged fat ladies only.”
Then the blonde recognized Totie Fields and burst into laughter.
IF HUMOR'S your bag, you'll have a Fields day with Totie. Though pumpkin shaped, she's top banana on the comedy circuit. The madcap of Jewish mothers, the mop-maned darling of TV talk shows, the raucous rebel of middle-age, Totie may share Medusa's hairdresser but her victims are reduced to jelly, not turned to stone. Her intrinsic good nature is irrepressible, her all-embracing heart irresistible.
“A woman can't be funny unless she's a happy woman," according to Totie. But surely, deep in that exhuberant [sic] frame, there's a serious woman screaming to get out, I suggested.
“Honey, there's nothing serious about me at all,” contradicted Totie. “The only thing I take seriously is my family. I have the most precious husband God ever made and two darling daughters, both in college. But I'm not a serious person. I see something funny in everything. You have to if you're a comedienne, and I'm the highest paid in show business.”
Reluctant to disclose the secret she confides only to the IRS, Totie admitted that “I could make $100,000 a week if I wanted to. Not every week, of course.”
TOTIE WALKS as though her legs end in wheels and as we rolled up to her cabana, on the private preserve of Kahala Hilton sand confined to celebrities, I noted that her physiognomy resembles one of those child's drawings made of a series of circles. Beneath the halo of unruly curls, the spinning cogs of her mind reel out a non-stop monologue.
“The gift of humor is the greatest gift in the world,” continued Totie. “It's a gift from childhood. Everything springs from there. I don't think that what we are is a mistake. I had a marvelous childhood, the youngest of a large family raised in Hartford, Connecticut. My daddy, who owned a supermarket, was the most delicious man I ever knew.
“He was widowed at 36, with five children. I was only five years old when my mother died and I can honestly say, without meaning to be sacreligious, that I never missed having a mother. I had two of them and three fathers. They lavished me with love. I was everybody's toy.
“I THINK that's why I adore Hawaii, because the people here still have a loving quality that has been lost to greed on the Mainland. There's a feeling of family here. Would you believe that my daughter, Debby, attended a Mainland school in which she was the only child in her class whose parents were not divorced?”
Totie's not one to wait for an answer.
“This family feeling, which also includes our friends, is a very important part of my life. I think people are drawn to us because of it. Our house in Las Vegas is always full. Last week, Alan King, Sammy Davis, Jr., Phyllis Diller, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme came over for dinner, and just before we left Joel Gray and Florence Henderson dropped by for lunch.
“Los Angeles Magazine said we and the Bob Stacks entertain more than anyone else in show business. George cooks and I tidy up. I've been married to George Johnson 24 years and he still laughs at my jokes. Loving and being loved, that's what's important.
“AND AGAIN I go back to my father. He loved life, every minute of it, every blade of grass, every passing cloud. He always kept a blanket in the back of the car and when we kids were small, he'd take us driving until we'd pass a hill with a view, or a lovely tree or a field of flowers and then he'd pull over to the side of the road, spread the blanket and we'd all sit there, enjoying the beauty of nature.
“I drive my kids insane to this day by swooning at my kitchen sink over a desert sunset outside the window. I spent two hours this morning just looking at those three swaying palms. And for me to sit still two hours is a miracle. "Yet Edie Gorme and I can talk all morning about a petunia. Everything she grows, however, is bigger and better than mine. One day I'm going to get a gun and shoot her. I have 60 rose bushes and love every one of them. I bet that's a side of me you didn't know, Cobey.”
BEFORE I could admit I was already dazzled by Totie's spherical dimensions, a room clerk passed us, leading two VIP guests to their private cabana.
“Honey, bring us two Tabs and two straws,” called Totie, “and give them the check.” The guests looked back in dismay.
“It's a funny thing, Cobey,” carried on Totie, without dropping a comma, “but when you have a tremendous earning power you appreciate what money can't buy. When my father became ill, I realized how little money meant to me, compared to healthy parents, happy children, pretty faces, three palm trees in the sunlight. And when daddy died, all my money couldn't replace what I lost. At every stage of life, you've got to appreciate what it's offering you.
“EVEN YEARS ago, when I was struggling and was I ever, darling. Do you realize how thrilling it was to a manager to sell a fat little Jewish girl with a funny face? it never occurred to me to give up. I took every dancing lesson available, tap, toe, ballet, aerobatic. I skipped music lessons only because we couldn't afford a piano.
“By the time I was six, I was a real performer. At 10, I was practicing signing my autograph. Every one of my teachers was as convinced of my success as I was. There was only one thing I wanted more than show business. That was motherhood. I decided I would have both. Georgie was a performer. I met him when I was 19 and he was 20. We were married six weeks later and became parents nine and a half months after that. I must say God had been good to me.
“Not that it's all been velvet; a working mother still has two jobs whether she's in show business or a salesgirl in a dime store. At least your kids know where you are when you're working. “INVARIABLY, two minutes before my cue to go on, I'd get a phone call: ‘Mom, I just flunked algebra’ or ‘Mom, I think I've got the measles.’”
The two Tabs arrived. “Put in the straws, honey,” said Totie to the waitress. “I don't want anyone to think we're drinking booze. You never see a booze glass with a straw in it. I have a hard drinking neighbor who sips straight vodka through a straw. ‘No one suspects I'm an alcoholic,’ he says.”
Totie raised her Tab in a toast to Hawaii. “I'll be back at Christmas with eight kids, two of my own and six nieces and nephews. This beats a fancy toy. Hawaii's delicious. Kids too.
“Even the little kid who accosted me in the Kahala Hilton elevator last spring. I was riding up to our rooms with Merv Griffin and an angelic little girl about five years old got on at the second floor. ‘I know who you are,’ she said to me, ignoring Merv. ‘You're Totie Fields. My mother loves you. I beamed at Merv. We got off at our floor and the little girl popped her head out before the door closed and yelled ‘And my grandmother hates you.’ “If I see her again, I'll shoot her.”
Fields had a leg amputated in 1976 but still continued to perform, though not for much longer. She was named “Entertainer of the Year” by the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1978. She was dead of a heart attack later that year. She was 48.

No comments:

Post a comment