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Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry

Mel Watkins, Author . Pantheon $26.95 (338p) ISBN 978-0-375-42382-6

The name Stepin Fetchit evokes images of an African-American caricature, a lazy, cowering fixture in early films. Watkins, a former New York Times Book Review editor, details the story behind the stereotype, examining the life and career of actor Lincoln Perry (1902–1985), creator of Stepin Fetchit. Watkins makes a case that the character's "rebellious, folk-inspired subversiveness (avoiding unrewarding labor by pretense and sham) was subverted and, ultimately, perverted." Perry started performing in early 20th-century traveling minstrel shows and was part of the two-man act "Step and Fetch It." By the early 1920s, when he reached Hollywood, he'd gone solo but kept the name. After breaking into films and working with luminaries like Will Rogers, he fought for treatment and salaries similar to his white co-stars. He became a millionaire; Hollywood pegged him as a troublemaker. Furthermore, the black middle class opposed his profligate lifestyle. Once the Civil Rights movement demanded more positive black images in the media, Stepin Fetchit became an embarrassment. Although Perry received a Special Image Award from the NAACP in 1976, his film work is not easily available. Watkins does an excellent job of capturing the distinctive voice of a determined and savvy film pioneer. Agent, B.J. Robbins. (Oct. 18)

Reviewed on: 08/15/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
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