BLACK HISTORY MONTH: CONCH STEPIN FETCHIT’S HOLLYWOOD STARDOM

Lincoln Perry’s story begins in Key West but does not stay long on the island. He was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry on May 30, 1902 in Key West, making him a conch who would become a successful, if not polarizing, Hollywood actor.

His parents came to the United States in the 1890s. His father, Joseph Perry, was of Jamaican descent and worked as a cigar roller in Key West and an occasional cook and performer. Dora Monroe, her mother, came to Key West from the Bahamas, where she worked as a seamstress in Nassau.

The family followed the departure of the cigar industry from Key West, and by 1910 would be living in the new cigar capital of Tampa. After his mother’s death in 1914, Lincoln and his siblings were sent to live with a foster family. By the age of 14, he had run away from his foster family and was performing as a singer and tap dancer in traveling minstrel shows and carnivals.

In 1922, at the age of 20, Lincoln Perry was working as a Vaudeville performer. Eventually, he would work as a duo known as “Stop and Fetch It: the Two Dancing Fools from Dixie”. When Perry went solo, he changed his stage name to an abbreviated version of Stop and Fetch It, Stepin Fetchit. The unusual name is believed to come from a horse called Stop and Fetch It that Perry placed a bet on and won.

Not just an entertainer, Perry also worked as an entertainment critic for The Chicago Defender, one of the nation’s leading black weekly newspapers.

Stepin Fetchin has been touted as ‘the laziest man alive’. He was a fumbling, slow-witted character who, to avoid work, acted like a fool and broke tools or engaged in other forms of shenanigans until those around him got fed up and do the work themselves. For many, however, he perpetuated undesirable stereotypes. However, his rise to fame in the late 1920s and through much of the 1930s was extraordinary. Stepin Fetchit has become the first black actor to receive mainstream American film billing. Stepin Fetchit also became the first black actor to earn $1 million.

In the 1930s he began to push for pay equal to that given to his white teammates, a fight he would lose. By the end of the decade, he had been branded a problem and chose to walk away from Hollywood. Mel Watkins, who wrote the book Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry, described him as “…an incredibly complex man. Smart and he was anything but what people think he is.

He formed a production company with the dream of documenting the lives of athletes like Satchel Paige, but it flopped and failed. In 1947, his extravagant lifestyle led him to declare bankruptcy, an act that prompted him to hit the road again to sing and tell jokes to paying audiences. Although he grew up a Catholic, in the 1960s he became a member of the Nation of Islam and befriended Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X.

Lincoln Perry as Stepin Fetchit appeared in 59 films between 1925 and 1976. His last film was in 1976 where Stepin Fetchit was listed as Dancing Butler in the movie Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. After suffering a stroke in 1977, he was checked into Motion Pictures & Television Country Home and Hospital, where he succumbed to heart failure and pneumonia on November 19, 1985.

Stepin Fetchit was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1978, where he is listed as an actor and “professional black stereotype”. Because he played a stereotype, his films are rarely shown today. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1968, Lincoln Perry reportedly said, “Just because Charlie Chaplin played a tramp doesn’t make all English people tramps, and because Dean Martin drinks, that doesn’t make all drunks. the Italians. I was just playing a character, and that character did a lot of good.

For anyone visiting Hollywood, California, Stepin Fetchit’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is on the west side of the 1700 block of Vine Street, making it the only conch with a star on the famous walk.

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