Stepin Fetchit was the first black actor to earn a million — but at what cost?
During the early days when racism was the very topic of our society, one black man defied it all with his great onscreen antics and personification of the black community. His works would later be reviled by his own race as an insulting on-screen personification and a dehumanizing representation of the black community. Stephin Fetchit was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry in Florida on May 30, 1902. Very little is known about his early life, but he claims to have run away at the age of 14. He found himself working in vaudeville with the name ‘Chitlin Circuit’ at an early age, but later made a breakthrough in silent films when white audiences found his personifications ludicrous and comical.
Millions of hard-earned dollars went in smoke
Perry found himself casting many silent films and at one time he was making four movies simultaneously. Directors would also create special scenes for him and production companies would offer him feature billing. But Perry’s lavish lifestyle would soon catch up with him.
The actor was living with his family and several employees in a modest bungalow in Hollywood’s Central Avenue. But his penchant for extravagance was way out of his capacity. Perry wore expensive outfits from designers that cost thousands of dollars. He had 12 expensive cars and 16 servants when the average salary during the 1930s was roughly just about $1,500. His extravagance and fading stardom paved the way for Stepin Fetchit’s downfall.
The “crossover stars” downfall
When the 1940s came, the famous comic, Fetchit, had a hard time finding movie roles. His demanding attitude and belligerent behavior became so denouncing that his co-stars, producers, and directors left him out of the scene.
The movie actor’s downfall hit him so hard that he filed for bankruptcy in 1947 with an estimated asset of only $146. As the movie industry turned its back on him, the black community also singled him out for his demeaning portrayal of his own race.
Today Lincoln Perry or famously known as Stepin Fetchit stands as one of the Hollywood pioneers of color race, but whose name will be forever tainted because of his roles and portrayal of the black community.