W. C. Fields? Ben Hecht? Gene Fowler? Thomas Mitchell? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant comedian and movie actor W. C. Fields led an unrestrained showbiz life displaying a fondness for alcohol and mistresses. He was not known as a religious man, but as his death approached he began to peruse the Bible. When a friend asked him about this behavior he humorously explained that he was:
Looking for loopholes.
Would you please explore this anecdote and quotation?
Quote Investigator: W. C. Fields died in 1946, and the earliest evidence located by QI appeared many years later in November 1960 in “Playboy” magazine. The prominent screenwriter and director Ben Hecht wrote a nostalgic piece reflecting on his experiences in Hollywood. Hecht recounted a story about the journalist Gene Fowler and his friend Fields that included an instance of the quotation. The nickname “Bill” was used for W. C. Fields. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
Fields was Fowler’s favorite self-destroyer. No man ever worked so patiently at wrecking his soul and body as did this prince of comedians. A Mississippi of gin sluiced through him in his declining years.
Fowler visited his ailing crony shortly before his death. He found Fields sitting in the garden reading the Holy Bible. “I’m looking for loopholes,” Bill explained, shyly.
Another version of the tale was published in 1966; the person visiting Fields was identified as the actor Thomas Mitchell instead of Fowler. Of course, it was possible that Fields used the quip more than once, and therefore both versions might be accurate. The 1966 citation is given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in a primarily chronological order.
- 1960 November, Playboy, Volume 7, Number 11, “If Hollywood is Dead or Dying as a Moviemaker, Perhaps the Following Are Some of the Reasons” by Ben Hecht, Start Page 56, Quote Page 134, Column 2, HMH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans) ↩