Stepin Fetchit was the stage name of American comedian and film actor Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry. Perry parlayed the Fetchit persona into a successful film career, eventually becoming a millionaire, the first black actor in history to do so. He was also the first black actor to receive a screen credit.
Perry’s typical film persona and stage name have long been controversial, and seen as synonymous with negative stereotypes of African-Americans. However, a newer interpretation of his film persona contends Perry was ultimately subversive of the status quo.
Little is certain about his background other than that he was born in Key West, Florida to West Indian immigrants. He was the second child of Joseph Perry, a cigar maker from Jamaica and his mother, Dora Monroe, a seamstress from Nassau. Both of his parents came to the United States in the 1890s where they married. By 1910, the family had moved north to Tampa, Florida. Another source says he was adopted when he was eleven years old and taken to live in Montgomery, Alabama. At age twelve, he ran away from home, joined a carnival, and earned his living for a few years as a singer and tap dancer.
Perry began entertaining in his teens as a comic character actor. His stage name was a contraction of “step and fetch it”, or perhaps, “step in fetch it.” According to his entry in Ephraim Katz’s The Film Encyclopedia, he borrowed his screen name from a racehorse that won him some money in his pre-Hollywood days.