Hollywood’s first black movie star
Hollywood’s first black millionaire starred in 54 films and was known as “The
laziest man in the world.” Named after four Presidents, Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry...became known to the world as “Stepin Fetchit.”
This complex man’s story starts in the 1920’s when his career took off on Vaudeville's “Chitlin Circuit.” He crafted a mumbling, befuddled, shiftless fool of a character that allowed him to be accepted by white audiences while standing out on stage, and later on the big screens of Hollywood. Unlike his stage character, Lincoln was a prolific writer for Chicago’s newspaper, The Defender, where he promoted himself as well as other black entertainers who were trying to make it in the oppressive white entertainment industry. His character was over-the-top, which represented the biggest stereotype and distorted image white America had of African Americans at the time. It was folk wisdom wrapped in a way “whitey” wouldn't object to. And while this character would make him rich and famous, it would eventually destroy him, and make him the enemy of those he tried to help.
Director: Antwone Fisher
Lincoln Perry, aka "Step", fought the studios demanding equal pay for all black actors. He was a religious fanatic who negotiated his own contracts, saying that God guided his hand. Meanwhile he was also guided to all the ills of celebrity success. By the 30’s he had beaten Hollywood at it’s own game, while becoming a walking contradiction between his beliefs and actions. He was one of the industry’s biggest stars, with an indulgent lifestyle to match...owning a fleet of luxury cars, furs, and thousand dollar suits. Now the game was beating him. There were the parties, living beyond his means, and people looking for handouts. He was known to be both loving and generous, as well as hot-tempered and egotistical. He got into trouble constantly on Central Ave. in Los Angeles, a hot spot for entertainers in the 20’s-30’s. His running buddies included American satirist Will Rogers and boxer Jack Johnson, who was under tremendous controversy at the time for marrying a white woman.
As the 40’s rolled in, a shift in American culture was underway, and the NAACP put pressure on the studios to get rid of black characters that could be considered demeaning or controversial...this meant “Stepin Fetchit” had to go. After years of fighting with the heads of studios and black leaders, Lincoln Perry decided to leave the business.
He went into virtual obscurity...just a few bit roles here and there, till the 60‘s, when CBS ran a documentary on black history which attacked "Stepin Fetchit" and again Lincoln tried to defend his creation, suing the network for defamation of character, but once again he lost.
As his professional life fell apart so did his personal life. After multiple marriages, and lack of any income, the only thing "Step" had to hang on to were his memories, and the anger he still held towards Hollywood for turning its back on him. Then, in 1969 his son went on a shooting spree on the Pennsylvania turnpike, killing three people, wounding eleven, and finally taking his own life. This tore Lincoln's already troubled family completely apart.
In 1976, while reading yet another scathing newspaper article on how his character “Stepin Fetchit” was an atrocity to the black race, Lincoln suffered a stroke, leaving him paralyzed over most of his body, and landing him in a Hollywood Actors Retirement Home. Not long after that, the NAACP finally acknowledged his contribution to film with an “Image Award.”
“Stepin Fetchit” knew how to wring laughter from people’s fears and prejudices, and how to not only thrive in a business that didn't want him, but how to brilliantly hold the spotlight wherever his character appeared.
Elijah Rock Actor/Producer “Lincoln Perry”
Victoria Rowell “Bernice Perry”
Jimmy Jean – Louis “Jack Johnson”
Vanessa Bell Calloway “Ms. Stevenson”
Jade Waters-Burch “Dorothy Stevenson”