Danny Thomas                    Inducted 2001 - Attended 1927/28

He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, but he wasn't a soldier. He built a hospital specializing in catastrophic illnesses in children, but he wasn’t a doctor. The Danny Thomas we knew and loved was an actor... comedian... singer... dancer... television producer... and humanitarian...a man of many talents and exceptional generosity. Tonight we claim him as "one of us" and applaud him as a WHS Hall-of-Famer.

Danny Thomas was born Muzyad Yakhoob in Deerfield, Michigan, the fifth of ten children. His parents immigrated to the United States from the small village of Beceri, Lebanon, settling in Toledo, Ohio. Later, when his father "Christianized" the family name, Muzyad became Amos Jacobs. In the 1920's, Amos attended St. Francis de Sales Catholic Grade School. He later attended Woodward, then known as "Woodward Tech." At age 10, Amos was selling newspapers on the street and working with his brother Ray and cousins Al Jacobs and Tommy Saad as ushers in a burlesque theatre, selling soda pop and candy to patrons in the balcony. After studying the

routines of visiting comedians, Amos decided to form a performing act with his brother. Billed as "Ray and Amos Jacobs - Songs, Dances and Snappy Patter," the brothers performed their burlesque routines for night audiences.

Amos dropped out of Woodward at the age of 16 to pursue a career in show business, a decision he said he "regretted for the rest of my life." Years later, in1949, Principal Charles LaRue awarded a Woodward diploma to Amos Jacobs. Amos' show business aspirations led to a job with "The Happy Hour Club," a daily radio broadcast on WMBC in Toledo. He served both as a character actor on the show, and also as the producer's assistant behind the scenes. The show added a new regular, Rose Marie Cassaniti, who used the stage name Rose Marie Mantel. Soon Amos and "Rosie" fell in love and were married.

Early married life was difficult for the couple, as Amos worked numerous radio jobs and as an emcee at the Ambassador Club in Detroit to make ends meet. In a cruel scheme, the owner of the Ambassador duped the ambitious young Amos out of $600 in a fraudulent offer to make him a part owner of the business. Facing financial desperation, and with the birth of his first child fast-approaching, Amos would later explain that these times of despair led to "my first exposure to the powers of faith." During one Sunday mass service, his priest appealed for funds needed for missionaries. Despite his own financial situation, Amos got "carried away" during the service and donated his last $7 to the church offering. Once the reality of what he had done hit him, Amos went to the altar rail and prayed. He said aloud, "Look, I've given my last seven bucks. I need it back tenfold because I’ve got a kid on the way, and I have to pay the hospital bill." The next morning, he received a call from a representative of the Jan Handy Motion Picture Studio, who had come across his photo. Amos literally dropped the telephone receiver when the agent offered him $75 (almost exactly to the penny, the tenfold he needed to cover his wife's hospital bill) to act in a demonstration skit at a Maytag appliance sales convention. A few days after the convention, Rosie gave birth to a beautiful dark-haired baby girl. The hospital bill was exactly $74.80. Years later, Amos would explain, "how could I ever again doubt the power of prayer?"

Amos and Rosie named their daughter Margaret Julia, but soon began to call the baby "Margo," which they thought would be easier for her to say as she began to speak. It wasn't easier. The closest she could come to Margo was "Marlo"... and that's how another soon-to-be-well-known stage name was created.

Amos wanted to establish a career as a radio character actor, but felt he was typecast as a "a good $50 emcee" in Detroit. One night, while taking a break from his emcee job at a saloon named the Morocco Club, an intoxicated customer told him a story of how he prayed to Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, to spare the life of his cancer-stricken wife. The stranger's wife was miraculously cured. The next day, Amos went to the nearest church and prayed to Saint Jude. He blurted out the words "Show me my way in life, and I'll build you a shrine. “Amos never forgot that pledge . . .and St. Jude "delivered." The Morocco Club soon closed, but Amos sought work in Chicago. He landed two radio jobs within an hour of arriving there. He drove 234 miles home to Toledo every weekend.

Amos Jacobs became "Danny Thomas" in 1940. He used the name of his youngest brother Danny, and his oldest brother Thomas, and adopted the professional name "Danny Thomas." Most of his friends called him "Jake". His nightclub and radio career in Chicago caught fire, and he was soon financially secure. At the start of World War II, he volunteered for military service, but they weren’t accepting married fathers.

In 1942, Danny hosted the "Danny Thomas Show" on NBC radio. It featured appearances by such greats as Bob Hope and Jack Benny. A second daughter, Theresa, was born that year. In 1945, the Thomas family moved to Beverly Hills, California. Their third child, a son named Charles Anthony, was born in1948. By this time, Danny's career was in full swing. He had performed in USO shows in North Africa and Europe; was booked for appearances at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas; and was cast in his first movie, The Unfinished Dance. He also appeared in The Big City (with Margaret O' Brien); Call Me Mister (with Betty Grable); I'll See You in My Dreams (a Doris Day musical); All Star Revue; Shower of Stars; The Road to Lebanon; Looking for Love; Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title; Journey Back to Oz (voice of the Tin Man); and the 1953 version of The Jazz Singer.

Urged by his agent, Abe Lastfogel, the head of the William Morris Agency, to fulfill his vow to St. Jude, Danny made a visit to Samuel Cardinal Stritch in Chicago. He explained his idea of building a hospital for poor children in honor of St. Jude. Later, Danny joined forces with several others - show business people, a lawyer, an industrialist, businessmen, a politician, and a professor - to develop and agree on the concept of a research center for children inflicted with catastrophic diseases. To fund the hospital, Danny and fellow Arab-Americans formed ALSAC(American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities), destined to be one of America’s most successful fund-raising organizations.

As television became prominent in American households, Danny moved from filmwork into "the new medium." He started with a brief stint as host of the Four Star Revue, which eventually evolved into The Colgate Comedy Hour. His agent then negotiated a deal that landed him a half-hour weekly comedy series that was written as "a show about my family and me." During a meeting with the show’s producers, Danny's wife suggested the name Make Room for Daddy. The first episode aired in September 1953, and quickly became a huge success. The series ran for eleven years. A sequel, Make Room for Granddaddy, followed. Danny also made guest appearances on The Practice, Empty Nest, Benson, Kojak, Happy Days, McCloud, Here’s Lucy, The Andy Williams Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Zane Grey Theater.

Plans for the new St. Jude's Hospital were set into motion as Danny’s television success skyrocketed. Fundraisers featuring such stars as Dinah Shore and Elvis Presley generated financial support for the worthy cause. Taking a cue from his friend Desi Arnaz, Danny formed his own television production company and became part owner of an NFL franchise, the Miami Dolphins. He later sold his interest in the Dolphins, with the exception of 3%, which he designated as belonging to the St. Jude foundation. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital opened on February 4, 1962. During the dedication ceremony, Danny told the crown of 9,000 that " If I were to die this moment, I'd know why I was born."

Danny's television production company invented the concept of a "spinoff" series by introducing The Andy Griffith Show, on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show (formerly known as Make Room for Daddy). The company enjoyed continued success with such series as The Real McCoys, Gomer Pyle, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mod Squad and The Joey Bishop Show. His daughter Marlo soon began to build her own acting career, but refused assistance from her father. "Miss Independence," as Danny referred to her, landed roles on Broadway in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park and later went on to star in her own series on ABC television, That Girl, before launching a career in film. His other daughter "Terre" became an accomplished nightclub singer. His son "Tony" went to work at Columbia Pictures, starting as a production assistant on projects such as Brian’s Song. Today, Tony is a partner in Witt-Thomas-Harris Productions, the creators of series such as The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, and Beauty and The Beast.

Semi-retirement from television production allowed time for live appearances, and Danny traveled the globe to perform in front of longtime fans. He formed an act with Milton Berle and Sid Caesar, appropriately billed as "The Legends of Comedy." They packed houses at the Riviera in Las Vegas and Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City. In 1990, they filmed a movie titled Side By Side. During this time, Danny focused the majority of his efforts on fundraising for St. Jude's.

During Danny's career, he and/or the shows in which he appeared were nominated for Emmy Awards twenty times, and won four times. He was individually nominated for his work as an actor, writer or producer. Emmys won were for Best New Program-Make Room for Daddy (1954), Best Actor in a Regular Series (1955), Best Direction-Make Room for Daddy (1957) and Best Direction-Make Room for Daddy (1961). Danny performed for five Presidents: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson.

Danny Thomas received numerous honors and awards in recognition of his efforts with St. Jude's. In 1977, he became a member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. In 1982, an act of Congress commended his contributions to the world-renowned research and treatment facility. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest civilian award given by Congress. Today, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is widely regarded as a world leader in the field of scientific research and treatment of childhood disease. Since 1962, over 16,000 children diagnosed with catastrophic diseases have passed through the doors of St. Jude's. The life of Danny Thomas and the history of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital are commemorated in the Danny Thomas/ALSAC Pavilion, located on the campus of St Jude Hospital. Adjacent to the Pavilion is the award winning Danny Thomas Memorial Garden, which frames Danny Thomas' burial crypt.

Danny Thomas died on February 6, 1991, just two days after he joined patients, parents and employees to celebrate St. Jude Hospital's 29lh anniversary. At the time of his death, then-President George Bush saluted Danny: "He was a giant of the entertainment business who knew that spark of delight which Americans take in poking fun at themselves. In his situation comedies, either as an actor or producer, he reflected the best qualities of American life. We will be laughing with him for years to come."

Danny Thomas' memory lives on, not just for proud Woodwardites and his many fans, but also for the children and families he has helped through his steadfast dedication to St Jude's. It is with GREAT PRIDE that we honor Danny Thomas as a fellow Polar Bear!

 

-- Source of Biographical Information: Internet Sites: eonline.com,imdb.com, bushlibrary.tamu.edu, trmyp.com, emmycast.org, jungleroom.com,iansites.com. horatioalger.com, 2stjude.org, adhost.com, abooks.com

©2020 Woodward Alumni Hall of Fame

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