Stepin Fetchit

Stepin Fetchit
Fox Films

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Stepin Fetchit
Film: West side of the 1700 block of Vine Street
Actor
Born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry on May 30, 1902 in Key West, FL
Died Nov. 19, 1985 of heart failure and pneumonia in Motion Picture and Television Country House, CA

Stepin Fetchit was a black comedian who became a Hollywood star in the 1930s by playing lazy, slow-moving, easily frightened characters.

Fetchit, born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, came to Hollywood in the late 1920s and made a small fortune portraying shuffling, idle men who rolled their eyes in fright and ignorance at the complexities of the world.

The unsophisticated, subservient portrayals were later viewed by many as an insult to American blacks, but Fetchit never saw much harm in the stereotype.

"Just because Charlie Chaplin played a tramp doesn't make tramps out of all Englishmen, and because Dean Martin drinks, that doesn't make drunks out of all Italians," he said in a 1968 interview with The Times. "I was only playing a character, and that character did a lot of good."

Film historians said Fetchit was the first black actor to receive feature billing in American movies not aimed specifically at black audiences, and Fetchit argued that he opened doors for other blacks in the film business.

Fetchit started out in vaudeville earning $300 a week and broke into film with "In Old Kentucky" in the late 1920s. He was placed under contract and worked in dozens of films through the 1930s. He earned a couple of million dollars and lived well.

He appeared in "Stand Up and Cheer!," "Miracle in Harlem," "The County Chairman," "David Harum," "Steamboat Round the Bend" and a dozen others with such stars as Shirley Temple, Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor.

But the money was spent as quickly as Fetchit earned it. His movie appeal went sour, and a production company he formed to film the lives of such black athletes as Jack Johnson and Satchel Paige went nowhere. In 1947, he declared bankruptcy and hit the road again, singing and telling jokes.

He entered the Motion Picture and Television Country House in 1977, a year after suffering a stroke, and spent the final years of his life there fighting a series of illnesses.

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