May 7, 1930
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
|Died||August 2, 1978
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Other names||Totie Fields Johnston|
|George William Johnston (1950-1978; her death; 2 children)|
Fields was born Sophie Feldman in Hartford, Connecticut. She started singing in Boston clubs while still in high school, taking the stage name of Totie Fields. The name "Totie" was a childhood nickname, a baby-talk pronunciation of the name "Sophie".
Fields gained fame during the 1960s and 1970s. Ed Sullivan gave Fields her first big break when he booked her on his show after seeing her perform at the Copacabana in New York. She made multiple appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Merv Griffin Show, as well as a fifth-season episode of Here's Lucy starring Lucille Ball.
In 1972, Fields wrote a humorous diet book titled I Think I'll Start on Monday: The Official 8½ Oz. Mashed Potato Diet.
Fields was plagued with health problems the last two years of her life.
In April 1976, her left leg was amputated above the knee when surgery to remove a blood clot failed. This caused her to use a scooter for mobility. Ironically, Fields' last television appearance before her surgery was in a rare straight dramatic guest-starring role on the CBS-TV drama series Medical Center, which aired on February 23, 1976. In that episode, "Life, Death, and Mrs. Armbruster", Fields played Phoebe Armbruster, a hospital janitor plagued by heart problems.
In June 1977 a much-thinner Fields starred in the Home Box Office special series Standing Room Only, beginning her show seated in a wheelchair. As the audience 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!"
In October 1977, Fields was diagnosed with breast cancer and her right breast was removed. However, Fields continued to perform, incorporating her health problems into her act. As a result, this changed the tone of her humor. Actor Van Johnson, who was a friend of Fields, was said to have remarked, "When Totie lost weight, she wasn't funny anymore."
Nevertheless, in 1978, during the last year of her life, Fields was voted "Entertainer of the Year" and "Female Comedy Star of the Year" by the American Guild of Variety Artists.
On August 2, 1978, Fields was scheduled to begin a two-week engagement at Las Vegas' Sahara Hotel when, on the eve of the opening, she was stricken at home by a blood clot, suffering a fatal pulmonary embolism. She was rushed to nearby Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, but was pronounced dead soon after. Her ashes were interred in Las Vegas; after her husband George Johnston's death in January 1995, her remains were moved to the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, to be interred together.