Long before the term ghetto-fabulous was being used today, #Lincoln Perry wore the description well. He was the original bad boy before the world even thought of Chris Brown, and many of today’s NFL and NBA players. He was known to the world as Stepin’ Fetchit “the worlds’s laziest man,” and the “white man’s negro.” One could see him often on the silent TV screen during the early eras of the 1930’s in Hollywood.
The darker side of town in Hollywood was known as Central Avenue, this is where all the parties went down, and of course Perry was in the middle of them all. Perry’s alter ego was known as Stepin’ Fetchit, who was a big fool on the silver screen, but looks can be greatly deceiving. He was a brilliant comedian from the old-school, he became one of the highest paid #Black entertainers of the mid-20th century. He was also known for being very race-conscious during a time when it was important to keep up images to the public, but he failed miserably when it came to that aspect.
Perry had a quaint little bungalow located at 1609 E. 40th St. in South Central, Los Angeles. He lived in the bungalow with his sister, father, chauffer, maid and a pet whippet. The location was attractive, quaint and seemingly sedate with striped cloth window awnings, lined flower beds, exotic plants and a well-manicured lawn. However, it was a very modest home compared to white contemporaries such as Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. Perry, however, was getting paid big time, he ranked among the top Black entertainers.
Perry would take his money and splurge on extravagant tastes such expensive clothes, and cars. When Perry picked up this life style he also had to deal arrests, outrageous court cases, public brawls, and many suspensions from the movie studios. Then there were his many affairs with young women. Dorothy Stevenson Perry, was 16 years-old when she moved in with “Step” as his wife, but despite all of the charm and beauty of the home, it was often a scene of raucous and chaotic episodes that duly befitted the exciting nouveau riche #African American entertainer.
Stepin’ Fetchit was just an old country boy in the movies. He dressed in rags and farm overalls, and people who saw the movies thought of him as just one of the Black folks. One thing most people didn’t know about Perry was that he epitomized the mumbling, shuffling, buck-eyed buffoon who acted like he didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. But he had his real-life role who was the “high-steppin,” big rollin,” got it all together wearing imported suites and custom designed clothing that cost as much as $1,000 a piece. Most of his clothing was said to have come directly from Rudolph Valentino himself. It was not long before Perry’s big spending caught up with him, but before it did Perry and his chauffeurs, Fred and Phillip, were fixtures throughout the South central.
Of course, Stepin’ Fetchit didn’t have a problem with getting women. Because of his name, fame and the illusion of power, women were ready when Perry said jump. But, it was the teenage girls that Step was most attracted to. These young girls were easy to elude with and were attracted by what they thought they would be getting from an older man. It was something about the age of 16 that really attracted Perry to the girls. He was a thirty-something man in 1929 when he met an auburn-haired high school girl named Dorothy Stevenson. She had dreams of making it big as a chorus girl. It wasn’t long before Perry and Stevenson were married, however, Perry had been involved with another young 17 year old girl, Yvonne Butler at the same time. When Butler learned of the Perry’s and Stevenson’s marriage, she sued him for alleged breach of contract to marry her. He agreed to pay her $5,000 and $2,500 was paid $50 dollars a week for fifty weeks. Dorothy Perry died in the fall of 1934 and people from all over the Black entertainment was said to have been at the funeral.
People talked a lot about the relationships that Perry was having with underage girls. However, it all caught up with “#Stepin Fetchit” in 1943, when he was arrested and put behind bars for having a liaison with 16 year old Juanita Randolph. The life that Perry knew was soon a thing of the past, and his career was gone as well. No one wanted to have anything to do with Perry. The Black people criticized the parts he took and didn’t like his “Uncle Tom” roles.
However, Lincoln Perry saw himself as a movie star first and film pioneer from the beginning who was busy breaking down barriers and paving the way for others of his race. White America embraced his lazy, shiftless caricatures as accurate portrayals of black men and the studios rewarded him for his behavior. Of course, as long as he was not seen as a threat to White America, why wouldn’t they love him?
Perry worked for all the major film companies during his time. However, the Black people knew very little of Perry. All they saw was the “Uncle Tom” Perry. As new actors and actresses took the stage such as the beautiful Lena Horne, people really did begin to turn their backs on Perry. He tried to work but it was just not working out for him. He later declared bankruptcy in 1949.
Stepin’ Fetchit would make a few appearances here and there. He was part of Muhammed Ali’s entourage during the 1960’s. Step made 54 films in Hollywood, some done were with his friend Will Rogers, but have not been seen. Most people have been taught no to appreciate the acting of Stepin’ Fetchit, but it was his legacy and his legacy was a part of African-American history.