CALABASAS, Calif. -- Lincoln Perry, better known as Stepin Fetchit, the first black movie star, was recovering Friday from a bout with pneumonia that had him near death at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital.
'He has pneumonia and had a sudden setback yesterday' hospital spokeswoman Jean Ferris said, 'but he is responding today and his condition is fair and alert.'
Fetchit has been a resident of the home since 1977, she said.
Perry, who took his name from a race horse, earned and lost a fortune in the 1920s and 1930s, but was criticized for his characterization of a slow-shuffling, dialect-talking minstrel Negro.
He was criticized by a militant generation of blacks for allegedly playing to the racist stereotype of the lazy and childish black man.
He countered that he did what he could, given the temper of the times, and pioneered the way for today's black entertainers.
Fetchit was incensed by the use of a film clip from one of his movies in a 1972 Bill Cosby show for CBS-TV, 'Black History: Lost, Stolen or Forgotten.'
He charged in a $3 million defamation suit against Cosby and the network that he had been portrayed as 'the symbol of the white man's Negro, the traditional lazy, stupid, crapshooting, chicken-stealing idiot.'
'In a single program I was judged and found guilty by millions of people,' he said.
Fetchit was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry (in 1902 or 1892 depending on various sources) in Key West, Fla. He ran away from home at 14 and toured the South with 'plantation shows' for black field hands, minstrel shows and carnivals, singing, dancing and telling jokes.
His first movie was 'In Old Kentucky' in 1925. He said he got the role because the producer was looking for a 'slow southern boy who didn't like work' similar to one of his comic vaudeville characters.
He appeared with Shirley Temple, Will Rogers, and Janet Gaynor in such films as 'Stand Up and Cheer,' 'Miracle in Harlem,' 'The Country Gentleman,' 'The Virginia Judge' and 'The Prodigal.'
Between 1927 and 1938 he earned more than $1 million but spent more than $4 million, by his own account. He wore $1,000 cashmere suits and had 12 cars, including a pink Cadillac with his name on the side in neon lights.