Although in the 1930s actors such as Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, Willie Best and Stepin Fetchit were forced to portray racial stereotypes on screen, off screen they led lives much like their Hollywood contemporaries.
They had fine houses, threw lavish parties, drove expensive cars and often had chauffeurs.
Today’s subject (pictured above left) is Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, who under the screen name Stepin Fetchit, was one of the biggest stars of his era.
Born in Key West, Florida, he played segregated vaudeville circuits until his part in a two-man comedy act — as “the laziest man in the world” — caught on with mainstream audiences.
His movie career began in the 1920’s. His star status solidified in the 1930’s, lasting through at least the ensuing, two more decades.
Note that Stepin Fetchit is rightly regard as an extraordinary gifted physical comedian. (He referred to Charlie Chaplin in discussing his work.) He was also one of the highest paid black performers of his period.
Among his most notable movies was 1936’s Dimples with Shirley Temple; director John Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright, a 1953 period piece set in the old South; and 1952’s Bend of the River, director Anthony Mann’s western costarring Jimmy Stewart and Rock Hudson.
Stepin Fetchit often played shoe shine men or handymen as slow-witted jive talkers. These presentations earned for the actor-comedian disdain for a time from a post-Civil Rights generation.
Cooler perspectives eventually prevailed, and he wound up being honored by the National Association for the Advance of Colored People for having created job opportunities for minorities in Hollywood.
Stepin Fetchit worked until 1976, when he made his last picture, that catchall of aging stars, Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who saved Hollywood. In all he appeared in 54 shorts, features and TV movies. He died in his early 80’s in 1985, and is justly regarded today as one of Hollywood’s most entertaining physical performers.
He certainly had excellent taste in automobiles — and in spiffy-looking chauffeurs, for that matter (see above). The breed of his wheels? A Cadilllac Phaeton.