Stepin Fetchit

Stepin FetchitLincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry (May 30, 1902 – November 19, 1985), better known by the stage name Stepin Fetchit (believed to be a contraction of "step and fetch it") was an American comedian and film actor. He was born in Key West, Florida, to West Indian immigrants, before moving with his family to Tampa in 1910. Perry began entertaining in his teens as a comic character actor. By the age of twenty, Perry had become a vaudeville artist and the manager of a traveling carnival show before transitioning into film acting.

Perry played comic relief roles in a number of films, all based on his character known as "The Laziest Man in the World". The character of Stepin Fetchit continued the “trickster” tradition of slaves: outwitting slave owners by pretending to be lazy and unintelligent to exploit their white owners sense of superiority. Perry’s physicality of the Fetchit character involved shuffling, mumbling, dozing off whenever possible, heavy eyelids, dangling lower lip, and scratching his head in confusion to any order given by a white character.

Perry starred in Hearts in Dixie (1929), one of the first studio productions to boast a predominantly African-American cast. He also appeared in The County Chairman, Steamboat Round the Bend, Charlie Chan in Egypt, Bend of the River and Dimples with Shirley Temple.

Perry did not invent the stereotype with which his stage name became synonymous, but Stepin Fetchit's image was used to popularize it. He appeared in 54 films between 1925 and 1976, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Perry became the first black actor to become a millionaire, but his popularity and finances diminished as the character he played became less appealing. Though Perry was an accomplished performer, he was never given the opportunity to play other roles besides Stepin Fetchit, and though he continued to work it was never at the level he'd achieved in the early days of Hollywood. He was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1947 and made only a few movies after that.

Lincoln Perry spent the rest of his life in relative obscurity, as the character that made him famous became a symbol of racism akin to Uncle Tom. Today the character of Stepin Fetchit, and the actor that gave life to him, are viewed with varying degrees of criticism and praise. While the character of Fetchit is largely viewed as unquestionably racist, Perry has been recognized as a pioneer, opening the door for black actors in Hollywood. By becoming the first black actor to gain featured credit on a film, gain a long-term contract from Fox studios, and become the first black Hollywood millionaire, Lincoln Perry showed black America what was possible in Hollywood.