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'20/20' Producer Resigns Over Buckwheat Interview : Television: Lynn Murray takes responsibility for the bogus story. William Thomas, who portrayed the 'Our Gang' character, died in 1980.

October 12, 1990|STEVE WEINSTEIN

Lynn Murray, the producer responsible for an interview with what has proven to be a bogus Buckwheat on last Friday's installment of "20/20," resigned in a "mutual decision" with the network, an ABC News spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

Victor Neufeld, the program's executive producer, decided that Murray did not properly handle the research of a segment entitled "Whatever Happened to 'Our Gang'? " and that it would be best if she resigned, said Maurie Perl, the show's spokeswoman.

Murray had worked on the program in a variety of jobs for the past 10 years, Perl said.

Last Friday, "20/20" claimed to have found the actor who played Buckwheat in the "Our Gang" comedies of the 1930s and '40s working as a grocery bagger in Tempe, Ariz. He was interviewed on the air.

William Thomas, the man who actually portrayed Buckwheat, died in 1980.

Hugh Downs will apologize on the air in tonight's broadcast of the 12-year-old news magazine "for any pain and discomfort" the mistake might have caused Thomas' family, Perl said.

After last week's show, Thomas' son, Bill Thomas Jr., and George McFarland, who played Spanky in the "Our Gang" comedies (later retitled "The Little Rascals" for television), criticized the "20/20" report, and ABC subsequently acknowledged having been duped.

The imposter, Bill English, told ABC that he changed his last name and refused to sign autographs because it would interfere with his work at the supermarket. Perl said that the idea to interview English came in a letter from a viewer, not from English himself. English apparently has been telling people he is Buckwheat for the past 30 years, Perl said.

Several observers, including Richard W. Bann, who with Leonard Maltin wrote the 1976 book, "Our Gang: The Life and Times of the Little Rascals," maintained that the mistake undermines "20/20's" credibility. "Next week, they'll find Elvis," Bann quipped to the Associated Press.

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