Legal History

The Legal Saga of WC Fields and His Dead Canary


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The charge was bird torture, the lawyer was F.C. Bellinger of Coudert Brothers, and the client was W.C. Fields.

The comedian was accused when a bird he used in a dentist skit on Broadway 84 years ago met an untimely demise, the New York Times City Room blog reports. Fields played a sadistic dentist searching for his patient’s beard for a mouth. Out flew a canary, and according to arresting officers affiliated with the Humane Society, the bird struck the scenery and fell to the floor. It died in a taxi on the way to the vet.

During the arraignment, Bellinger suggested the arresting officers were at fault. “Is it not a fact you dropped the bird at the entrance of the Earl Carroll Theater?” he asked one of the officers. A defense witness said it happened. The lawyer also established that smoke from flash bulbs was thick and possibly asphyxiated the creature.

The judge concluded “there is not a scintilla of proof that the bird was tortured,” and acquitted Fields.

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