William Thomas Jr. Continued
Thomas remained in Our Gang when the series changed production from Hal Roach Studios to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938 and was the only Our Gang cast member to appear in all 52 MGM Our Gang shorts. Thomas was also the only holdover from the Hal Roach era to remain in the series until its end in 1944. By 1940, Thomas had grown out of his speech impediment, and with Lee having been replaced by Robert Blake; Thomas's Buckwheat character was written as an archetypal black youth. He was twelve years old when the final Our Gang film was completed in November 1943.
The character of Buckwheat in later years became synonymous with derogatory stereotypes. However, the work of Thomas and the other black cast members as actors also was credited with helping the cause of race relations by playing alongside white children as equals in a desegregated show during the height of the Jim Crow Era.
After Our Gang, Thomas enlisted in the US Army in 1954, and was released from active military service in 1956 decorated with a National Defense Service Medal. Returning to civilian life, Thomas was offered many film and stage roles, but he had no desire to return as an actor. However, Thomas still enjoyed the film industry at large, and became a successful film lab technician with the Technicolor Corporation.
Thomas, Jr. died in his Los Angeles on October 10, 1980. Coincidentally, exactly 46 years to the day after his mother brought him to audition at the Hal Roach Studios.
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