Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mr. Micawber & W. C.

Producer David O. Selznick and director George Cukor's 1935 film adaptation of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield is a perfectly cast film. Arguably the most perfectly cast film of Hollywood's golden age. It contains definitive versions of these immortal characters: Edna May Oliver as Aunt Betsey; Jessie Ralph as Peggotty; Basil Rathbone as Edward Murdstone; Una O'Connor as Mrs. Gummidge; Lionel Barrymore as Dan'l Peggotty; Lennox Pawle as Mr. Dick; Freddie Bartholomew as young David Copperfield; Roland Young as Uriah Heep; and the incomparable W. C. Fields as (my favorite Dickens character of all-time) Mr. Micawber. It's hard to tell where Fields the personality ends and Micawber the character begins. It could be said that Fields, a lifelong Dickens fanatic, was born to play the part, yet it was almost not to be. Charles Laughton had originally been cast as Copperfield's elder bosom buddy, Micawber. He reportedly loathed his own performance so much (saying he looked like a child molester after watching himself in the dailies) that he left the production after only two days of work. Thankfully, on his way out, Laughton recommended Fields as his replacement. Perhaps more thankfully, Selznick took his suggestion to heart. The rest, as they say, is history.

Wilkins Micawber from Dickens' novel David Copperfield, 1850
W. C. Fields as Micawber in George Cukor's David Copperfield (1935)
Charles Laughton was originally cast as Micawber in the MGM film
William Claude Dukenfield aka W. C. "Bill" Fields, circa 1900

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