Born in Los Angeles, California, Thomas auditioned at the Hal Roach Studios at age three. His first episode was For Pete’s Sake! But he wasn’t playing the role of “Buckwheat” — that was played by female child actress, Carlena (Matthew “Stymie” Beard’s sister). Another young girl, Willie Mae Taylor played the role for three more episodes before Thomas took it over.
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The Buckwheat character played by Thomas evolved into a boy after Stymie left the series in 1935. In the 1936, The Pinch Singer, Thomas was now a “he” not a “she”. But his costume didn’t change until the feature film, “General Spanky” when he began to wear overalls and lost the pig tails.
Buckwheat had a speech impediment as a child, which was part of the natural, real home feel to the series. Producer,Hal Roach had looked out his window at a bunch of kids in the street and was drawn to the comedy of it all. You might say it was one of the first attempts at reality shows. He liked to capture the kids at play.
At the age of 23 Thomas enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served for two years, receiving the National Defense Serve Medal and Good Conduct Medal. After his service in the army, Thomas worked as a film lab technician with Technicolor Corporation. He used his skill in editing in stead of acting.