WILLIAM KARL THOMAS, biography

William Karl Thomas was born 1/25/33 in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, a small Gulf Coast town in which Tennessee Williams lived and wrote about in his works. Thomas' mother, Katherine Schmidt, was a classically trained violinist from New Orleans, and his father, Erle Thomas, was a Canadian wholesale florist. He had a sister four years older and a brother eight years older. His parents were divorced when he was born. His childhood is told in his memoir The Genteel Poor. In 1951 Thomas married his former high school teacher and, after a four year childless marriage, was divorced.

Before ending up on the West Coast, his early career included being a Display Manager for Sears in Selma, Alabama, a map draftsman at the Army Map Service in Washington, D.C., a nightclub pianist in New Orleans French Quarter, and four yeas in the Air Force which included duty in England and a year of combat in Korea.

His screen writing collaboration with Frank Ray Perelli began in New Orleans in 1951 and led them through Juarez, Mexico in 1956, to the West Coast where Perelli had begun to manage the then unknown Lenny Bruce in 1956. Bruce admired Thomas' multi-talents which led to collaborating in a variety of capacities including comedy writing, screen writing, album cover photos, cinematography, theatrical booking, publicity, and more in a collaboration that lasted ten years until Bruces' death in 1966, as told in Thomas' memoir, Lenny Bruce: The Making of a Prophet, published in English and Japanese language ediions.

Thomas spent twenty years mostly in Hollywood as a screen writer, cinematographer, industrial film producer, photographer, journalist, private investigator, public relations executive, and occasionally a ghost writer of biographies and screenplays for producers and celebrities. His work in these fields led him on extended six month periods in Tucson, New Orleans, Mexico, and Jamaica, West Indies.

Thomas' subsequent books include: The Josan and the Jee,, based on his year in Korea; Cleo, based his work in the Civil Rights era; Hollywood Tales from the Outer Fringe, based on his work in the film industry; The Genteel Poor, his childhood memoir; A Place For Us, the biography of a disabled activist; The Candy Butcher, the biography of his collaborator Frank Ray Perilli; The Piano Lover, a show biz trilogy based on his years as a cocktail pianist and which includes the script and score of an original new musical; and Immortal, a science fiction trilogy.

William Karl Thomas currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he occasionally teaches writing and film production at a local community college, and continues work on a variety of book, film, and media projects.

A sampling of photography by William Karl Thomas

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The Cocktail Pianist


The High Budget
Feature Cinematographer


The Low Budget
Feature Cinematographer

The Documentary Cinematographer
The Consultant

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