I went into a department store and tried on a girdle that was
decorated with tiny rosebuds. When I got it on,
the roses opened up in full bloom.
In the 60s when her career really began its trajectory, women were still considered eye candy and not expected, or even allowed, to offer up opinions and ideas. Totie broke that glass ceiling by assuming a comic persona built on her weight and, pride in her shape - polar opposites. She might have been a zaftig yenta but rather than espousing self-pity she was confident in her appeal and sweetly brimming with self love. She explained that bringing up the subject of weight herself deprives the wise alecks from mouthing loud asides all night but, she was also teaching women of the era how to act.
Totie on The Ed Sullivan Show in the early 60s
Totie Fields was born Sophie Feldman, daughter of a shopping center owner, on 7 May 1927 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. She started singing as a child, making appearances on local radio stations by the time she was 4. She toured the Borscht Belt at 14 and before she reached 20 years, worked as a tummler in Boston area strip clubs. Even then Sophie was breaking the glass ceiling: tummlers entertained guests as a master of ceremonies between acts and, at the time, were generally male. It was during this period that Sophie took her stage name - Totie being the way she pronounced her given name as a child.
I've been on a diet for two weeks,
and all I lost was two weeks.
Totie married George William Johnston, Jr. in 1950. Georgie (as he came to be known) was a fellow comic in Boston who, over time, worked solely with Totie as her musical director. The couple soon moved to Brooklyn, NY and became the parents of two daughters—Jody was born in 1952 and Debbie was born in 1955. The Admiral's Inn in Ogunquit, Maine, now a bed and breakfast, was the family's private summer vacation residence during this period into the early 1960's.
It was after her pregnancies that Totie began to gain weight. She tried dieting but nothing worked. The only way to lose weight, really, she concluded, is to have someone put you in a bed where you can't get to the refrigerator. Ever the optimist though, Totie decided to incorporate her size into her act. Her broad accent, self-deflating jokes and extroverted kvetching helped to endear her to audiences whom she treated like friends AND lovers. It was after making this decision that her celebrity and work increased twofold.
Shirley Temple had charisma as a child.
But it cleared up as an adult.
In the early 60s, Ed Sullivan gave Totie her first national break when he booked her on his show after seeing her perform at the Copacabana in New York. She made multiple additional appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, topping out at almost 20!
Totie released Totie Fields Live on Mainstream Records and
wrote I Think I'll Start on Monday: The Official 8 1/2 oz.
Mashed Potato Diet published by Hawthorn Books.
See Experience Totie Fields Live to listen.
Totie also made a name for herself on the talk show circuit during the 60s and 70s. There were multiple appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Mike Douglas Show (on which she famously helped Mike introduce KISS to the American public when she co-hosted the 1974 episode that was their first television appearance.)
The Tarzan reunion show with Mike Douglas, Johnny Weissmuller,
Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney, Buster Crabbe,
Denny Miller, and Jim Pierce.
Other notable appearances included Here's Lucy and a well-received dramatic turn on Medical Center. Totie played multiple roles in the 1972 television special Fol-de-Rol, a filmed version of Sid and Marty Krofft's live puppet show.
Totie visits with Jerry Lewis on his annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon
Totie was diabetic and plagued with other health problems the last years of her life, having almost as many major medical procedures as television appearances. It has been rumoured that some of these problems stem from plastic surgery. This rumor is unsubstantiated although, interestingly, here is a link to 1972 episodes of The Merv Griffin Show on which guest Totie applauds plastic surgery as she questions Dr Kurt Wagner, the plastic surgeon to the stars. (Scroll to clip 4.)
In April 1976, Totie's left leg was amputated above the knee when surgery to remove a blood clot failed. Even with that traumatic experience, Totie fitted herself with an artificial leg and returned to work saying, "I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me." (Link to 1977 article from People Magazine)
Raquel Welch - a moron with less on.
In June 1977, Totie starred in the Home Box Office special series Standing Room Only, beginning her show seated. As the audience (filled to brimming with celebrity friends) welcomed her, she stood up, causing the cheering audience to stand with her. Said Fields: "I've waited all my life to say this... I weigh less than Elizabeth Taylor!" Totie was back and the audience was immediately at ease; if Totie could still laugh at herself, then it was all right to laugh with her.
While still recovering from the amputation, Totie suffered two heart attacks. In October 1977, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and her right breast was removed. Nevertheless, Totie continued to perform and in 1978, the last year of her life, she was voted Entertainer of the Year and Female Comedy Star of the Year by the American Guild of Variety Artists.
Totie was scheduled to appear at the Sahara Hotel when she suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism in her Las Vegas home on August 2, 1978; she was 51. She was buried in Las Vegas and later moved to the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles to be buried next to Georgie, who died in 1995.
Totie performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967
- Some sources speculate that Georgie had refused to release films, tapes, and other recordings of Fields after her death thus, explaining the dearth of material available. Can we then hypothesize that Georgie was crushed by her early death and felt it crass to capitalize on her body of work? They were so much in love - just look at the TattleTales clip - that it's a reasonable assumption.
- Burial: Mount Sinai Memorial Park, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA - Plot: Gardens of Heritage, Main Level, Crypt 60C
- Totie appeared on The Glen Campbell Show playing a night-club bunny, a cheerleader, a minskirted stewardess and a ballerina.
- Adorable Me, A Musical Based on the Life of Totie Fields
Adorable Me! The Totie Fields Story (1990) A New Musical Based on the Life of Totie Fields Conceived by Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan Book by Bobby Pearce & Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan Are You Happy? Flat Tire, One Headlight Out Someone To Notice Weaver High School He Likes...Me! Holding On The Taste Look, But Don't Touch Me, Myself And Cane Don't Remind Me I'm Not Ready With Friends Like Mine On Top Of The World/Years Big Papa Is A Nice Man One Day At A Time Heat Up The Pot Workshopped at Long Beach Civic Light Opera (1991) Produced by American Jewish Theatre, Inc., Stanley Brechner, Artistic Director (1993) Four-month run at The Ballroom, New York (1994) Four-month run at Tropworld, Atlantic City (1996) Also played in regional theaters and performing arts centers across the country, including Seven Angels Theatre, Northridge Performing Arts Center, Bailey Concert Hall
- Sophie, Totie and Belle : Sophie, Totie & Belle is a play based on a fictional meeting of the late entertainers Sophie Tucker, Totie Fields and Belle Barth. It was written by Joanne Koch and Sarah Blacher Cohen, with original music by Mark Elliott and songs associated with these entertainers. It opened in New York City at the off-Broadway Theater Four on March 15, 2000 after sold-out runs in Queens, NY Theatre in the Park, Boca Raton, Florida, Miami, Philadelphia, New Hope, Albany, and the Forum Theater in New Jersey, the Drama Center in Deerfield Beach, the Wilton Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Theatre Works in Sarasota. Another review.
- A list from “I Think I’ll Start on Monday”
Five Practical Reasons For Not Going On A Diet 1. It’s very impolite to leave food on your plate. 2. America is supposed to be the best fed nation in the world. Why make us look bad? 3. Fish, meat and vegetables maybe chemically polluted. The U.S. Government has NEVER found mercury in a chocolate layer cake. 4. Food is synonymous with love. If you diet, you are depriving yourself of much needed affection. 5. Sara Lee, Laura Scudder, Betty Crocker and Mr. Hershey are sincere, hard working Americans. Check your conscience. Do you really want to take a living away from these people?
- You can now listen to the Totie Fields Live LP on YouTube. See the Experience Totie Fields Live blog entry for links.
- You can still download the Totie Fields Live MP3 files but you need to email me for the link.
- 6/15/11 UPDATE: I received the following information in an email from a reader:
Just read your blog......interesting stuff! I only knew her because my dad, Harry Morton, was her booking agent. The stories I heard growing up as a kid, in Oceanside, NY, were all about what a pain in the butt she was to work with. She spent many evenings in the den, with other comics that my Dad either handled or knew. Harry was one of the top agents for the Catskills, as well as Miami, and Lakewood, NJ. His clients, just to name a few, consisted of: Henny Youngman, Phil Foster, Buddy Hackett, Alan King, Mac Robbins, Pat Henry, Norm Cosby, Harvey Stone, Jan Murray, and more. I have googled his name [Harry], only to find a sentence or two and nothing more. He was funnier than most of the guys he handled, He cut an album, "Look Out For Harry Morton" back in the 60's. I started to write a book with him, but we only wrote about 100 pages. He's gone now 8 years. He was married to Billie Lorraine, a nite club singer.
- In this interview of Phyllis Diller from The View, Rosie O'Donnell brings up Totie and Phyllis mentions that Totie did not like Joan Rivers. Interesting.