Danny Thomas (born Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz on this day in 1912) was a Lebanese-American comedian and singer, best known for his long-running tv show Make Room for Daddy (a.k.a The Danny Thomas Show) which ran from 1953-1965. The show was kind of a mash-up of I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best , with Thomas playing a man who juggles a career as a famous nightclub singer with his job of being a dad. The extremely likable Thomas was very old school show biz, very much cut from the same cloth as a Jolson or a Cantor, in that he was an all-around entertainer, as much a comedian as he was a singer. Vaudeville was dying just as he broke into show business so his formative years were spent performing in nightclubs and on radio in the Detroit area (he hailed from Toledo). While he made a couple of films in the early 5os, including a remake of The Jazz Singer and I’ll See You in My Dreams, in which he played songwriter Gus Kahn, he made his real mark in television, where he not only produced and starred in his own show, but also produced The Andy Griffith Show, The Real McCoys, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mod Squad, while continuing to perform in spots on television variety programs. Ultimately, his most lasting legacy will undoubtedly be the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which he founded in 1962. (His other major legacy is of course his daughter Marlo, star of the show That Girl.)
He is a man I much admire. And I actually got to see him live once! He came to the bookstore where I worked to sign copies of his just-penned autobiography in 1991, just a few weeks before he died of heart failure.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc