b. Benjamin Geisenfeld, 14 June 1894, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, d. 16 August 1959, New York City, New York, USA. A popular vaudeville entertainer, Fields appeared in Greenwich Village Follies (1928). Also in the cast was Blossom Seeley, a Broadway star. They were married, Fields becoming Seeley’s third husband, and they often partnered one another on stage until his death. A brief glimpse of their act is seen in a 10-minute film short, Blossom Seeley And Bennie Fields (1929). This features Seeley and Fields (billed here as Bennie) singing to the duel piano accompaniment of Charles Bourne and Phil Ellis. Fields also made brief appearances in the films Mr. Broadway (1933) and The Big Broadcast Of 1937 (1936). In the latter, Fields sings ‘Here’s Love In Your Eye’ with Larry Adler and Benny Goodman’s orchestra. The short with Seeley apart, little sense of Fields’ talent can be gained from these film appearances. The biopic, Somebody Loves Me (1952), did not help, inaccurately tracing the life story of Seeley and Fields, played by Betty Hutton and Ralph Meeker. A number of times between 1954 and 1958, Fields appeared on television in Toast Of The Town.
Fortunately for posterity, Fields played the lead in one feature film, Minstrel Man (1944), which was directed by Joseph H. Lewis. In this film, which became available on DVD in the early 00s, Fields is Dixie Boy Johnson, a ‘blackface’ singer in a minstrel show who has Broadway in the palm of his hand. After his wife dies in childbirth, he leaves his baby daughter with friends, almost drowns at sea, then goes into hiding for decades before returning to see his daughter become a star on Broadway. Among several songs Fields sings are four written for the film by Harry Revel and Paul Francis Webster, ‘I Don’t Care If The World Knows About It’, ‘My Bamboo Cane’, ‘Cindy’ and ‘Remember Me To Carolina’, the latter being nominated unsuccessfully for an Oscar. The music arranger for the film was Ferde Grofé. Uncomfortably for present day audiences, the production numbers are done in ‘blackface’ but there is, thankfully, a nightclub sequence when Fields appears without makeup, accompanying himself at the piano in a medley of songs. Fields’ singing voice is mellow and tuneful and he presents the songs with care and restraint.