Danny Thomas was an American nightclub comedian and television and film actor and producer, whose career spanned five decades. Thomas was best known for starring in the television sitcom Make Room for Daddy (also known as The Danny Thomas Show). He was also the founder of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. He is the father of Marlo Thomas, Terre Thomas, and Tony Thomas.
One of nine children, Thomas was born in Deerfield, Michigan, to Charles Yakhoob Kairouz and his wife Margaret Taouk on January 6, 1912. His parents were Maronite Catholic immigrants from Lebanon. Thomas was raised in Toledo, Ohio, attending St. Francis de Sales Church (Roman Catholic), Woodward High School and finally The University of Toledo, where he was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Thomas was confirmed in the Catholic Church by the bishop of Toledo, Samuel Stritch. Stritch, a native of Tennessee, was a lifelong spiritual advisor for Thomas, and urged him to locate the St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. He married Rose Marie Cassaniti in 1936, a week after his 24th birthday.
In 1932, Thomas began performing on radio in Detroit at WMBC on The Happy Hour Club. Thomas first performed under his Anglicized birth name, "Amos Jacobs Kairouz." After he moved to Chicago in 1940, Thomas did not want his friends and family to know that he went back into working clubs where the salary was better, so he came up with the pseudonym "Danny Thomas" (after two of his brothers).
He can be found living in Ward 6, Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio in the 1920 U. S. Census as Amos Jacobs, the same in the 1930 Census, and in 1940 living in Ward 2, Detroit, Detroit City, Wayne, Michigan as Amos J. Jacobs, a Radio and Theatrical Artist. Further, the 1930 Census states his parents were born in Syria; while the 1920 Census states that they were born in "Seria," and that their Mother tongue is "Serian."
Thomas first reached mass audiences on network radio in the 1940s playing shifty brother-in-law Amos in The Bickersons, which began as sketches on the music-comedy show Drene Time, co-hosted by Don Ameche and Frances Langford. Thomas also portrayed himself as a scatterbrained Lothario on this show. His other network radio work included a stint as "Jerry Dingle" the postman on Fanny Brice's The Baby Snooks Show, and appearances on the popular NBC variety program, The Big Show, hosted by stage legend Tallulah Bankhead.
In films, Thomas starred in The Jazz Singer opposite the popular contemporary vocalist Peggy Lee, a 1952 remake of the 1927 original and played songwriter Gus Kahn opposite Doris Day in the 1951 film biography I'll See You in My Dreams.
Thomas enjoyed a successful 13-year run (1953–1965) on Make Room for Daddy, later known as The Danny Thomas Show. On January 1, 1959, Thomas appeared with his Make Room for Daddy child stars, Angela Cartwright and Rusty Hamer, in an episode of NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Cartwright played the role of Danny Williams's stepdaughter, Linda Williams, between 1957 and 1964, for 170 episodes. The on-and off-screen chemistry of Thomas and Cartwright was largely responsible for the success of the show. The show was produced at Desilu Studios, where Lucille Ball was doing I Love Lucy. The show featured several guest stars that went on to star in their own series, including Andy Griffith, Joey Bishop, and Bill Bixby.
Thomas became a successful television producer (with Sheldon Leonard and Aaron Spelling among his partners) of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Mod Squad. Thomas also produced three series for Walter Brennan: The Real McCoys, The Tycoon and The Guns of Will Sonnett on ABC during the late 1950s and 1960s. Thomas often appeared in cameos on shows he produced, including his portrayal of the tuxedoed, droll alien Kolak, from the planet Twilo, in the Dick Van Dyke Show science-fiction spoof, "It May Look Like a Walnut."
Thomas was responsible for Mary Tyler Moore's first "big break" in acting. In 1961, Carl Reiner cast her in The Dick Van Dyke Show after Thomas personally recommended Moore. He had remembered her as "the girl with three names" whom he had turned down earlier, but rediscovered her after a lengthy search through photos and records.
In the early seventies, Thomas reunited most of his second Daddy cast (Marjorie Lord, Rusty Hamer, and Angela Cartwright) for a short-lived update of the show, Make Room for Granddaddy. Premised around Danny and Kathy Williams caring for their grandson by daughter Terry, who was away with her husband on a long business assignment, the show lasted one season. He then starred in an NBC sitcom, The Practice for two seasons, and after that I'm a Big Girl Now, which aired on ABC from 1980-81.
The last series in which Thomas was a headlining star was One Big Family, which aired in syndication during the 1986-1987 season. The situation comedy's premise was set around a semi-retired comedian whose grandchildren were orphaned after their parents were killed in a car accident.
As a "starving actor" Thomas made a vow: If he found success, he would open a shrine dedicated to St Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Thomas never forgot his promise to St. Jude, and after becoming a successful actor in the early 1950s, his wife joined him and began traveling the United States to help raise funds to build his dream - St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a hospital for needy children, where they would be cared for regardless of race, religion or ability to pay - a hospital where no suffering child would be turned away. He fervently believed that “no child should die in the dawn of life.” With help from Dr. Lemuel Diggs and close friend, Anthony Abraham, an auto magnate in Miami, Florida, Thomas founded the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee in 1962. Since its inception, St. Jude's has treated thousands of children for cancer and other catastrophic diseases. In 1996, Dr. Peter Doherty, PhD, and Dr. Rolf M. Zinkernagel, M.D., both of St. Jude's Immunology Department, were the co-recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their key discoveries on how the immune system works to kill virus-infected cells.