Five Balls in the mailbox...

How Fields got stamped

IJA Newsletter, March 1981

Fields on US stamp Seeing W.C. Fields juggle five balls on a postage stamp last year gave jugglers everywhere a boost.

Fields got there primarily through the lobbying efforts of Vick Knight, president of a Fields fan club in Hollywood, and director of development at the Children's Hospital of Orange Co. in Orange, CA. Knight said his club, "The Bank Dicks," proposed the idea to the U.S. Postal Advisory Committee in Washington, D.C., for nine years before their hero was finally lionized.

"We didn't get anywhere requesting just a general stamp of Fields," Knight recalled. "So, we presented a specific design, with an illustration taken from the movie, 'My Little Chickadee.'" It was a non-juggling image of the comedian peering stealthily over a hand of cards.

Even with that effort, it took a bureaucratic helping hand from congressman William Dannemeyer (R-CA), a member of the Postal Advisory Committee, to get the idea approved. "He helped us out a lot after I emceed an election banquet for him!" Knight stated.

With the skids greased, the Fields stamp was approved by the committee as the fourth in a series of six called "The Performing Arts," drawn by Jim Sharpe of Westport, CT. The first three were of Jimmy Rogers, George M. Cohan and Will Rogers. Two have yet to appear.

Sharpe never saw Knight's design. He was at liberty to compose his own image of Fields, and arrived at the five ball version after three months of extensive, but enjoyable, research. "He's always been one of my favorite people," Sharpe said.

"Though Fields was maybe best known as a comedian, I found out he started out as a comedy juggler," Sharpe continued. "In all the stamps but Jimmy Rogers, I drew a small figure of the man performing along with a larger facial portrait." Hence, Will Rogers appeared with a lariat and Cohan as a dancer.

"I tried to tie each man's career together with the two images," said Sharpe, who has done cover illustrations for "Time" and "T.V. Guide." "So, I pictured Fields juggling, as he did early in his career, then created the portrait as he looked in later years."

Sharpe was not altogether sure about how to stop the action of a five ball juggle. He can do three balls, but says the pattern is rusty. "That's about the only thing I learned my sophomore year at college," he said. "I hope the position of the balls is accurate. I manipulated them somewhat to try to show the motion and make them clear. Hence, three balls are outlined against the larger portrait of Fields and one is placed in the stamp's white space.

Fields finally appeared to the philatelic public January 29, 1980, the 100th anniversary of his birth. He died in 1946.

Return to W.C. Fields home page