Stepin Fetchit as Jonah in the Whale? 1935
|Why It's Interesting|
If this still from the movie Steamboat Bill (1935) [better known as Steamboat Round the Bend and not to be confused with Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. (1926)] were not so weird I would say that how the director posed Mr. Fetchit was typical of the demeaning roles into which he–the first African-American movie star–was placed. One assumes that he is meant to be read as Jonah in the whale’s mouth, though it is entirely possible that the film put forward some more insulting explanation for his being in the whale’s mouth. This film was a Will Rogers vehicle, made the year Rogers died in the plane crash. Rogers and Fetchit made a number of films together. Rogers was famous as rather “liberal” on race issues, but even his latest films, e. g. Judge Priest (1934), appear no different from others in their presentation of the few African-American characters allowed on the screen.
I welcome interpretations of this bizarre scene, which is the central portion of a still.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.