Stepin Fetchit

The first black film actor to become a millionaire appeared onstage at what is now Richmond Civic Theatre on April 28, 1938.

Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry was a black actor stage-named Stepin Fetchit. His bumbling acting style stereotyped African Americans in the early years of cinema. Though he perpetuated a negative image of African Americans, even the critics agreed he had great comic timing as a stable boy or slave, and he became the first major black film star to become a millionaire.

Perry was born in Key West Florida in 1902. At age 14 he toured the south in minstrel shows and later was a vaudeville singer, dancer and comic. He changed his name to that of a racehorse winning him money in Oklahoma, and eventually made it to Hollywood, where he made dozens of films.

He appeared onstage at the Indiana Theatre [Richmond Civic Theatre] in late April 1938 with his ‘Harlem Hit Parade.’ The Palladium described him as ‘lazy and laughable.’ He displayed charm and warmth, along with singing, dancing and comedic talent.

At the height of his fame Perry owned 12 cars and employed a staff of 16 servants. He later squandered his fortune and declared bankruptcy, and by the 1960s was a charity patient at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago.

Perry died of pneumonia and congestive heart failure on Nov. 19, 1985 in Woodland Hills, California, an extraordinary entertainer who opened doors for black actors that followed, more free to display a limitess range of talent.

While in Richmond, Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, aka Stepin Fetchit, called the tune and got audiences to laugh and to tap their feet.


 

 

 


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June 19, 2012