Evolution of the Black Performer (03:51)
Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry portrayed Stepin Fetchit. While the comedian worked the Vaudeville Circuit, he assumed the moniker after a racehorse. Most blacks performed in teams because they were not allowed to speak directly to white members of the audience.
Blackface Roots (03:17)
Black performers parodied white actors who wore blackface. Minstrel shows portrayed African Americans as exotic or ignorant. Comedians included Moms Mabley, Fetchit, Pigmeat Markham, Mantan Moreland, and Bert Williams.
Physical Comedy (02:38)
Minstrel shows were superficial comedy. The traveling tent show "Silas Green from New Orleans" operated until the 1970s. Bert Williams described his character as the "shiftless darkie;" Fetchit performed audible pantomime.
Public Relations Master (03:24)
Fetchit understood he needed to maintain the image of his character. The comedian was nicknamed "The Central Avenue Bad Boy." The black middle class reviled him because of his character and spendthrift ways.
Short-lived Fame (04:31)
Fetchit made enormous salaries for about a decade and was the first black contract player for a major studio. A stroke left him incapacitated and he relocated to the Hollywood Motion Picture Home. The black community had conservative values.
Controversial Figure (02:26)
Fetchit was the first black movie star and opened the doors for other African Americans. His character was a parody. People who had middle class aspirations criticized him.
First African American in Sunday Department (05:19)
There were few black reporters until the Civil Rights Movement. Watkins began his career in book reviews for "The New York Times." "On the Real Side" examined the history of African American comedy.
Credits: Who Was Stepin Fetchit (00:42)
Credits: Who Was Stepin Fetchit
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