Reading William Burroughs today I suddenly made a connection between him and W.C.Fields.
The odd trigger? One simple word. Fields occasionally made an extremely un-PC reference to "a Ubangi in the fuel supply" - and in Junky I came across this:
"Did you ever have the good fortune to see the Italian master Tetrazzini perform?" Lee lit Mary's cigarette. "I say 'perform' advisedly, because he was a great showman, and like all showmen, not above charlatanism and at times downright trickery. Sometimes he used smoke screens to hide his maneuvers from the opposition—I mean literal smoke screens, of course. He had a corps of trained idiots who would rush in at a given signal and eat all the pieces. With defeat staring him in the face—as it often did, because actually he knew nothing of chess but the rules and wasn't too sure of those—he would leap up yelling, 'You cheap bastard! I saw you palm that queen!' and ram a broken teacup into his opponent's face. In 1922 he was rid out of Prague on a rail. The next time I saw Tetrazzini was in the Upper Ubangi. A complete wreck. Peddling unlicensed condoms. That was the year of the rinderpest, when everything died, even the hyenas."
The thought crossed my mind while reading some of the routines in Queer - which echoed the meandering tall tales that Fields drifts into at times - and of course the drawling voice which I heard in my head. Did Burroughs borrow this from Fields?
They both displayed a misanthropic and cynical view of the world; we remember both as 'addicts'; they share a black sense of humour and a dislike for censorship, and both appear fascinated by con men, hustlers and other petty criminals - to whom they gave exotic names.
So I Google the connection, and find this:
|Burroughs and Fields|