Billie Thomas is best remembered as “Buckwheat” in the TV series, “The Little Rascals” and “Our Gang”. He was in the show from 1934 to its ending in 1944. But the real question is whether he was a boy or a girl.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Thomas auditioned at the Hal Roach Studios at the age of three. He got a role and his first episode was called, For Pete’s Sake! But he wasn’t playing the role of “Buckwheat” — that character was played by female child actress named Carlena (who happened to be Matthew “Stymie” Beard’s sister). Another young girl, Willie Mae Taylor played the role for three more episodes before Thomas took it over. That’s when it became confusing.
Billie Thomas became “Buckwheat” in the 1935 episode called, Mama’s Little Pirate. But he continued to play the role as a girl. Since the character, “Buckwheat” was originally a girl, Hal Roach and the studio must have wanted to keep it that way — even though the new actor for Buckwheat was the boy, Billie Thomas. If you were ever confused about whether he was a little girl or a little boy, this may be the reason. He wore pigtails with bows, a large over-sized sweater and large over-sized floppy boots.
The Buckwheat character played by Billie Thomas finally evolved into a boy after Stymie left the series in 1935. In the 1936, The Pinch Singer, Billie Thomas, as Buckwheat, was now a “he” not a “she”. But talk about confusing — 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 Billie 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 instead of acting. Billie Thomas was one of the Rascals that had an untimely death at the age of 49, when he suffered a heart attack. (Alfalfa was shot at a young age)