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Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry

Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry Cover

ISBN13: 9780375423826
ISBN10: 0375423826
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The first African American movie star, Lincoln Perry, a.k.a. Stepin Fetchit, is an iconic figure in the history of American popular culture. In the late 1920s and ’30s he was both renowned and reviled for his surrealistic portrayals of the era’s most popular comic stereotype—the lazy, shiftless Negro. After his breakthrough role in the 1929 film Hearts in Dixie, Perry was hailed as “the best actor that the talking pictures have produced” by the critic Robert Benchley.

Having run away from his Key West home in his early teens, Perry found success as a vaude-

villian before making his way to California. The tall, lanky actor became the first millionaire black movie star when he appeared in a string of hit movies as the whiny, ever-perplexed, slow-talking comic sidekick. Perry was the highest paid and most popular black comedian in America during Hollywood’s Golden Age, but his ongoing battles with movie executives, his rowdy offscreen behavior, and his extravagant spending kept him in gossip-column headlines. Perry’s spendthrift ways and exorbitant lifestyle hastened his decline and, in 1947, having squandered or given away his fortune, he was forced to declare bankruptcy.

In 1964 Perry was discovered in the charity ward of Chicago’s Cook County Hospital; he later turned up in Muhammad Ali’s entourage. In 1972 he unsuccessfully sued CBS for defamation because of a television program that ridiculed the type of characters he had portrayed. But his achievements were eventually acknowledged: in 1976 the Hollywood chapter of the NAACP gave him its Special Image Award for having opened the door for many a succeeding African American film star, and in 1978 he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. In Stepin Fetchit, Mel Watkins has given us the first definitive, full-scale biography of an entertainment legend.


"In the pathbreaking 1968 documentary 'Black History, Lost, Stolen or Strayed,' narrator Bill Cosby identified the performances of film actor Stepin Fetchit as a major force in perpetuating the demeaning black stereotype 'of the lazy, stupid, crapshooter, chicken-stealing idiot.'

This would become many Americans' lasting impression of Stepin Fetchit — who in the late 1920s became Hollywood's... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)


In this richly detailed biography, Watkins follows the life and career of Lincoln "Stepin Fetchit" Perry, who was renowned--and reviled--for his portrayals of "Uncle Tom"-like characters in films during the 1920s and 1930s.

About the Author

Mel Watkins, a former editor and writer for The New York Times Book Review, is the author of Dancing with Strangers, a Literary Guild Selection, and of the highly acclaimed On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy. He lives in New York City.

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55lyn, October 23, 2010 (view all comments by 55lyn)
A great book that goes into details of an African-American male performer that has been forever associated with his Stepin Fetchin image and supposedly deservedly maligned. Free passes have been given to updated versions of his characterizations that has persisted up to today in movies, TV shows, and comedic routines. The book gives a solid explanation as to why Perry should not have lost his lawsuit against CBS/Bill Cosby and why he should not be eternally criticized(even with the little NAACP recognition he has received). Perry, like many performers during early film making days, did not see the huge significance of movies and the impact it has on audiences and society. All many Blacks saw was a job and an opportunity in an stringently racist atmosphere, and as performers, they simply adapted to conditions that they did not create,and they performed to the best of their abilities. Perhaps, Perry and the others felt that any depiction of African Americans on film was better than none at all. It is too easy to judge others in the past by today standards. However, it cannot be denied that Perry palatable performances for the consumption of white movie makers and audiences did open the door wider for black actors and comedians, over the years, including Bill Cosby. Hope this book can change perceptions.
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Product Details

Random House
Watkins, Mel
United states
Motion picture actors and actresses
Entertainment & Performing Arts - General
Publication Date:
October 18, 2005
9.38x6.56x1.36 in. 1.50 lbs.

Related Subjects

Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 338 pages Pantheon Books - English 9780375423826 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , In this richly detailed biography, Watkins follows the life and career of Lincoln "Stepin Fetchit" Perry, who was renowned--and reviled--for his portrayals of "Uncle Tom"-like characters in films during the 1920s and 1930s.
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