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Multiple Years / Our Gang - Buckwheat
One of the most recognizable characters in the Our Gang comedies was William (Buckwheat) Thomas who was a troupe member from 1934 until the series concluded in 1944. Thomas recalled his mother taking him to a tryout at age three--where he was quickly added as a minor character. He was being groomed to replace Stymie as the Gang's black character. Like Farina before him, Buckwheat's gender was a bit of a mystery at first, but he eventually grew into a male role. His trademark 'Otay!' was part of his garbled-English shtick. His wardrobe usually consisted of a striped shirt, a floppy hat, and pants held up by just one suspender. Thomas made an easy transition out of showbiz. He worked as a film laboratory technician for years and also served in the Korean War. (His gravestone wrongly lists him as a WWII veteran.) In August 1980 he was moved to tears after he was given a standing ovation by fans at an Our Gang reunion. Two months later Thomas died suddenly of a heart attack at age 49. Remarkably, Buckwheat got plenty of posthumous fame. Comedian Eddie Murphy had an ongoing Buckwheat-impersonation routine on Saturday Night Live. In 1990, the ABC news program 20/20 aired a segment about a man working in a Tempe, Arizona grocery store who claimed to be Buckwheat. The network was flooded with calls from knowledgeable Our Gang fans who pointed out that the real Buckwheat had died a decade earlier. An angry Spanky McFarland appeared on television to denounce the fraudster, a man named Billie English who had been masquerading as Buckwheat for 30 years. The producer of the 20/20 segment was summarily fired for his shoddy research. Buckwheat's son sued ABC for negligence.