Editor. Nationality: American. Family: Married the film editor Sam Fields (died 1954); two sons. Career: Assistant editor on Hollywood films in the 1940s, and on TV series The Whistler, 1954–55, The Lone Ranger, 1954–57, Death Valley Days, 1955–58, Sky King, 1955–58, Wanted: Dead or Alive, 1959–60, and The Tom Ewell Show, 1960–61; taught film editing, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; film editor from 1960; 1976–82—vice-president of Feature Productions, Universal. Awards: Academy Award for Jaws, 1975. Died: 30 November 1982.
Films as Editor:
Belle of the Yukon (Seiter) (asst); Casanova Brown (Wood) (asst); The Woman in the Window (F. Lang) (asst)
Along Came Jones (Heisler) (asst)
The Savage Eye (Maddow, Meyers, and Strick); Studs Lonigan (Lerner); The Sword and the Dragon (English-language version of Ilya Mourometz) (Ptushko)
An Affair of the Skin (Maddow); Cry of Battle (Lerner) (supervisor)
The Bus (Wexler) (co)
Country Boy (Kane); Deathwatch (Morrow)
The Legend of the Boy and the Eagle (Couffer) (co); Search for the Evil One (Kane); Track of Thunder (Kane)
The Wild Racers (Haller) (co)
Medium Cool (Wexler)
Point of Terror (Nicol) (supervisor)
What's Up, Doc? (Bogdanovich)
American Grafþti (Lucas) (co); Paper Moon (Bogdanovich)
Daisy Miller (Bogdanovich); The Sugarland Express (Spielberg) (co)
While the City Sleeps (F. Lang) (sound ed)
Snowfire (D. & S. McGowan) (sound ed)
El Cid (A. Mann) (sound ed)
The Balcony (Strick) (sound ed); A Face in the Rain (Kershner) (sound ed)
Targets (Bogdanovich) (sound ed)
Journey to the Pacific (d)
It's a Good Day (d)
By FIELDS: articles—
American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1976.
Films and Filming (London), February 1977.
Mise-en-Scène (Cleveland, Ohio), Spring 1980.
"Working with Time: Verna Fields Prevails," an interview with J. Padroff, in Millimeter, December 1980.
American Premiere (Los Angeles, California), vol. 3, no. 5, 1982.
On FIELDS: articles—
Cinema (Beverly Hills, California), no. 35, 1976.
Film Comment (New York), March-April 1977.
Action (Los Angeles, California), January-February 1978.
Slate, L., "Women & Film: One Year Later," in American Premiere, July 1982.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 8 December 1982.
* * *
Verna Fields became one of the American film industry's most famous editors during the 1970s, and in the process was able to accumulate considerable power. Since she had helped with so many blockbusters of the decade, including Jaws and American Graffiti, Fields was promoted by a grateful Universal Pictures into the executive suite. She held that vice-presidency until her death in 1982.
Unfortunately all this fame and power at the end of her long career only served to remind close observers of the American film industry that like in other multi-billion dollar institutions, few women ever accumulated a measure of true power. However, since the beginnings of the film industry, film editing had been one of the few arenas open to women. Fields, like Margaret Booth before her (at MGM), used this opening to become a force at a major Hollywood studio.
Indeed during the heyday of the "Movie Brats" of the 1970s, many looked to Fields as a symbolic breakthrough. Here was a person who had worked on many a low-budget independent film being elevated into a real position of power. She was so "in" that in 1974 Newsweek featured an article on her—one of the few in a popular magazine about a film editor.
Verna Fields' father helped her move into the film industry. Through him she met her husband Sam Fields, who was a film editor, in the 1940s. Sam died in 1954, leaving two sons to support. Verna returned to work that year and learned her craft on television fare such as The Lone Ranger, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Death Valley Days, and Sky King. She made her big splash in Hollywood as the sound editor for El Cid.
But her greatest impact came when she began to teach film editing to a generation of students at the University of Southern California. She then operated on the fringes of the film business, for a time making documentaries for the Office of Economic Opportunity. The end of that Federal Agency pushed her back into mainstream Hollywood then being overrun by her former USC students.
Cutting What's Up, Doc? for Peter Bogdanovich represented her return, but her real influence began when she helped a former USC student, George Lucas, persuade Universal to distribute American Graffiti. A grateful Lucas, the story goes, presented her with a brand new BMW automobile in return. Jaws for Steven Spielberg "made" Fields' career.
She was quoted in the 1970s, at the height of her influence, saying that she believed editing should be invisible. She sought to downplay her own influence, preferring to let the director dictate the terms. Thus she worked in a variety of projects equally well—from melodrama to comedy to classic genre films. Certainly that is precisely what the new young Hollywood generation liked about her. She was a great technician who was sympathetic to their projects and visions. She wanted to help them—unlike the rest of the Hollywood establishment of the day which fought their very entry into the system. It is for this support that Fields will long be remembered.