Thomas was one of television's most beloved and enduring entertainers.
His comedic talents were surpassed only by his shrewd production
activities and his well-known philanthropy. Thomas began his career
as the stand-up comic Amos Jacobs, developing his story-telling
shtick into a familiar routine of lengthy narratives peppered with
a blend of Irish, Yiddish, Lebanese and Italian witticisms. Quite
often these routines tended toward sentimentality, only to be rescued
in the end by what Thomas called the "treacle cutter," a one-liner
designed to elevate the maudlin bathos into irony.
many early television comics, Thomas developed his routines touring
in a variety of clubs. Restricted mostly to his home environs of
the midwest, he secured a three year deal at Chicago's 5100 club
where he was spotted by the powerful head of the William Morris
Agency. "Uncle" Abe Lastfogel was to become Danny's mentor, overseeing
his New York nightclub appearances, arranging a USO tour for him
with Marlene Dietrich and landing him a part on Fanny Brice's radio
show. By 1945, he was declared "best newcomer in radio" by the trade
papers and Joe Pasternak cast him in his film, The Unfinished
Dance. Refusing the advice of three different studio heads to
surgically alter his trademark nose, Thomas' film career was short-lived,
but fairly respectable. In the early 195os, he left the film industry
to good reviews for his title role appearance in the 1951 Warner
Brothers release of The Jazz Singer, and his co-starring role in
the Doris Day vehicle I'll See You in My Dreams.
tired of the nightclub circuit, Thomas was anxiously pursuing a
television series. His first television appearance was on NBC's
Four Star Review, where he co-starred with Jimmy Durante, Jack
Carson and Ed Wynn. The variety show format, with its fast-paced
three minute sketches was ill-suited to Danny's comedic style which
depended upon expository monologues and lengthy narratives. For
the series' second season, the network ordered a format change wherein
the four rotating hosts were replaced by a procession of headliners.
With all but Ed Wynn's departure, the program became the All
obtained his own program when agent Abe Lastfogel pressured fledgling
network ABC into accepting Thomas as part of their terms for acquiring
the much-coveted Ray Bolger. ABC, familiar with Thomas' previously
ill-received television performances, insisted upon a sitcom, and
it was during a prolonged brainstorming session with producer Lou
Edleman and writer Mel Shavelson, that Thomas inadvertently came
up with the autobiographical premise that was to become Make
Room for Daddy. As the three worked futilely into the night,
Thomas grew impatient and pleaded that he simply wanted a series
so that he could stay put with his family for awhile. The result
was, Make Room for Daddy, a show which revolved around the
absentee-father dilemmas of a traveling singer-comic "Danny Williams."
The title was suggested by Thomas' real-life wife, Rose-Marie, who
during Danny's frequent tours, allowed their children to sleep with
her. Upon her husband's return, the children would have to empty
dresser drawers and leave the master bed to, quite literally, "make
room for Daddy."
Incorporating Thomas' singing and story-telling talents, the program
was a blend of domestic comedy and variety program (during Danny's
fictionalized "nightclub engagements"). It became one of television's
most successful comedies, winning numerous awards, including best
new show for the 1952-53 season. Despite its success, the program
underwent a number of transformations, most notably when Jean Hagen,
who played the part of wife Margaret, left the series to attend
to her film and stage career. For the fourth season, Danny played
a widower, and a succession of guest-stars appeared as potential
replacement wives. In the 1956 season finale, Danny proposed to
guest-star Marjorie Lord who, along with child star Angela Cartwright,
joined the Williams' family for the program's remaining seven years.
The start of the 1957 television season also saw the program on
a new network (CBS) when ABC president (and Hagen ally) Robert Kintner,
lost interest in the series. The newly titled Danny Thomas Show
slid into the spot formally occupied by CBS's mega-hit I Love
Lucy, where it remained in the top ten until voluntarily leaving
the network when the performers sought new avenues of creative expression.
starring in Make Room for Daddy, Thomas met Sheldon Leonard,
a former gangster-type actor with aspirations for directing. Leonard
took over as director for the program midway into its first season,
eventually becoming executive producer. Together, Thomas and Leonard
established Thomas-Leonard Productions, a powerhouse production
company based on the Desilu lot that was responsible for a multitude
of successful series including The Real McCoy, the Andy Griffith
Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Bill Dana Show and The Dick
van Dyke Show. In 1965 when Leonard left to develop I Spy,
Thomas continued independently, producing The Danny Thomas Hour,
an anthology series for NBC and joining with Aaron Spelling to create
and produce The Mod Squad and other programs. While a 1967
attempt to buy Desilu from Lucille Ball was unsuccessful, Thomas
continued to create and produce programs under the banner of Danny
had an enormous positive impact upon the growing medium. The off-camera
stand-up routines he performed for the in-studio audience just prior
to filming each episode of Make Room for Daddy, were imitated
on other programs and institutionalized as the now commonplace "warm-up."
The Andy Griffith Show was the first real spin-off for network
television, originating in a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas
Show. As a producer he read scripts, and supervised a plethora
of number one rated programs and was personally responsible for
casting Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie in The Dick van Dyke
Show. His influence as producer continued not only in his own
projects but through the work of his children, notably daughter
Marlo, who became a renowned actress-producer-director, and his
son Tony, who with partners Susan Harris and Paul Junger Witt is
responsible for veritable catalogue of 1970s and 1980s hit programs,
including Soap and The Golden Girls.
personal integrity is as well-known as his acting and producing
talents. In the 1950s he successfully protected two black-listed
writers who continued to write for his television series under assumed
names. And, in 1983, he was rewarded with the Congressional Gold Medal
for his work in establishing the St. Jude's Children's
Research Hospital, a cause he continued to promote and support until
his death in 1991.
Danny Thomas with Rusty Hamer
THOMAS. Born Muzyad Yahkoob in Deerfield, Michigan, U.S.A.,
6 January 1914. Married: Rose Marie Cassaniti, 1936; two daughters
and one son. Began career in radio in Detroit, 1934; worked as master
of ceremonies in night club, 1938-40; appeared on Chicago radio,
1940; worked as master of ceremonies, 5100 Club, Chicago, 1940-43;
developed own radio, television programs, performed in clubs and
theaters worldwide throughout 1940s; performed overseas during World
War II with Marlene Dietrich and company, and solo; performed with
Fanny Brice on radio, 1944; made motion picture debut in The Unfinished
Dance, 1946; starred in long-running television series, Make Room
For Daddy; produced successful television series such as The Dick
Van Dyke Show. Honorary degrees: L.H.D., Belmont Abbey, International
College, Springfield, Massachusetts; Christian Brothers College,
Memphis; LL.D., Loyola University, Chicago; D. Performing Arts,
Toledo University, Loyola-Marymount University, Los Angeles. Founder,
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 1962, Memphis. Recipient:
Emmy Award, 1954; Layman's Award from the American Medical Association
(AMA); Better World Award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW),
1972; Michelangelo Award from Boys Town of Italy, 1973; Humanitarian
Award from Lions International, 1975; Father Flanagan-Boys Town
Award, 1981; Murray-Green-Meany Award, AFL-CIO, 1981; Hubert H.
Humphrey Award, Touchdown Club, 1981; American Education Award,
1984; Humanitarian Award, Variety Clubs International, 1984; Congressional
Medal of Honor, 1984; Sword of Loyola Award, Loyola University,
Chicago, 1985; nominated for Nobel Peace Prize, 1980-81; decorated
Knight Malta; knight commander with star, Knights of Holy Sepulchre,
Pope Paul VI. Died in Los Angeles, 6 February 1991.
All Star Revue
1953-57 Make Room For Daddy
1957-64 The Danny Thomas Show
1964-68 Danny Thomas Specials
1967-68 Danny Thomas Hour
1970 Make Room For Granddaddy
1976-77 The Practice
1980-81 I'm a Big Girl Now
1986 One Big Family
Side By Side
The Unfinished Dance, 1946; The Big City, 1947; Call
Me Mister, 1948; I'll See You In My Dreams, 1951; Jazz
Room for Danny, with Bill Davidson. New York: Putnam, 1991.
Gelbart, Larry. "The Man Could Make a Short Story Long." The
New York Times (New York), 17 February 1991.
David. The End of Comedy: The Sit-com and the Comedic Tradition.
Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1983.
Hamamoto, Darrell Y. Nervous Laughter: Television Situation Comedy
and Liberal Democratic Ideology. New York: Praeger, 1989.
John. The Best of TV Sitcoms: Burns and Allen to the Cosby Show,
The Munsters to Mary Tyler Moore. New York: Harmony Books, 1988.
Gerard. Honey, I'm Home!: Sitcoms, Selling the American Dream.
New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1992.
Nina. Living Room Lectures: The Fifties Family in Film and Television.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.
David. Comic Visions: Television Comedy and American Culture.
Boston, Massachusetts: Unwin Hyman, 1989.
Rick. The Great TV Sitcom Book. New York: R. Marek, 1980.
Vince. Classic Sitcoms: A Celebration of the Best of Prime-time
Comedy. New York: Macmillan, 1987.
Griffith Show; Dick
Van Dyke Show