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|Also Known As:||Amos Muzyad Jacob,Muzyad Yakhoob||Died:||February 6, 1991|
|Born:||January 6, 1912||Cause of Death:||heart attack|
|Birth Place:||Deerfield, Michigan, USA||Profession:||Producer ... actor singer TV producer|
Sporting the most prominent proboscis this side of Jimmy Durante, beloved comedian Danny Thomas received his start in nightclubs and worked his way on to radio and the big screen, where he appeared in such movies as the first remake of "The Jazz Singer" (1952). However, it was on television where his career really thrived, and the enduring success of "Make Room for Daddy" (ABC/CBS, 1953-1964) helped establish the formula and production techniques that many later comedies would follow. Thomas also established himself as a top television producer with such hit shows as "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS, 1960-68), "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (CBS, 1961-66), and "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1973). He closed down production of "Make Room for Daddy" after 11 seasons, but returned to the premise only a few years later with "Make Room for Granddaddy" (ABC, 1970-71). Though that effort did not fly, nor did his other attempts to get another series off the ground, Thomas' achievements in the entertainment world were tough to match. As important as his showbiz work was his devotion to various philanthropic endeavors, including a key role in establishing the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee. His daughter, Marlo Thomas, also found fame on the small screen and continued that humanitarian work after his passing. For all of his considerable accomplishments, Thomas was remembered most fondly as Danny Williams, one of those archetypal television father figures that made viewers wish they were a part of his family.
Danny Thomas was born Amos Alphonsus Muzyad Yakhoob on Jan. 6, 1914 in Deerfield, MI. One of 10 children in a poverty-stricken Lebanese family, Thomas spent his formative years in Toledo, OH and went to work at an early age in order to help his parents keep the family afloat. He also managed to attend school, and upon finishing his education at Woodward High School and the University of Toledo, Thomas began a career in show business, performing on radio (as Amos Jacobs, his legal name) and in nightclubs (as Danny Thomas). His comedic talents eventually brought him to the attention of Abe Lastfogel, head of the William Morris Agency, who saw great potential in the amiable young man. With this new representation, Thomas moved from the Chicago club scene to New York City, where he once again could be heard on radio in "The Danny Thomas Show" (CBS, 1944-49) and on popular programs like the Don Ameche/Frances Langford farce "The Bickersons" (NBC/CBS, 1946-1951). Thomas also joined many of his fellow entertainers in heading overseas to entertain American troops during World War II.
Movie offers soon followed and Thomas made his debut in "The Unfinished Dance" (1947), which, in contrast to his reputation as a comic, was actually a drama. There were also few laughs to be had in his next film, "Big City" (1948), in which Thomas played a rabbi who raises an abandoned baby girl with the help of a Protestant clergyman and an Irish Catholic policeman. He also joined popular dance team Betty Grable and Dan Dailey in their final musical together, "Call Me Mister" (1951), and starred as popular songwriter Gus Kahn in the glossy biopic, "I'll See You in My Dreams" (1951). That film's moderate success led to Thomas headlining a remake of "The Jazz Singer" (1952), the legendary Al Jolson film from 1927 that helped bring about the death of silent cinema. Thomas was praised for both his singing and acting in the picture, but as fate would have it, he never starred in another film.
In between his movie work, Thomas also had a recurring stint as a guest host on the humorous variety program "Four Star Revue" (NBC, 1950-53). It would be, in fact, the medium of television where he would earn his lasting immortality. Campaigning for his own series, Thomas was rewarded with "Make Room for Daddy" (ABC/CBS, 1953-1964), one of the earliest sitcom hits. The show revolved around successful nightclub singer Danny Williams and his attempts to be a loving husband and father, despite spending much of his time on the road. The series' ratings were fairly weak during its first three years, but that changed when Marjorie Lord replaced Jean Hagen as Williams' new spouse. By the 1957-58 season, "Make Room for Daddy" had jumped from ABC to CBS and became the second highest-rated show on television, remaining in the Top Ten for the rest of its existence. Thomas - who won a Best Actor Emmy Award in 1955 for his work on the show - based many of the episode plotlines and gags on his own experiences.
On the production side, the program's structure helped establish the modern sitcom formula. While enjoying success on "Daddy," Thomas decided to branch out behind the scenes, much like his fellow sitcom actor Desi Arnaz, and established himself as a television producer giant. He was lucky enough to have two significant hits right out of the gate with "The Real McCoys" (ABC, 1957-1962) and "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS, 1960-68), both of which were among the earliest entries in the "rural sitcom" sub-genre. Just as popular and fondly remembered were "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (CBS, 1961-66), and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the "Andy Griffith Show" spin-off, "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C." (CBS, 1964-1970).
During an early stage of his career when both job offers and ready cash were in short supply, the devoutly Catholic Thomas prayed to St. Jude, patron saint of hopeless or lost cases, for guidance. He believed that those gestures were, in part, responsible for what he achieved in his career, and so beginning in the 1950s, Thomas became determined to use his wealth and influence to give thanks for those breaks. After almost 10 years of planning and additional fundraising, his main philanthropic endeavor, the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, was dedicated in Memphis, TN in 1962. The hospital became a safe haven for those families who could not afford to pay for treatment of their seriously ill children, with the mantra of never turning away a sick child setting them quite apart from other medical facilities. Thomas would remain an enthusiastic booster for the hospital - which made the greatest strides in the treatment of cancer - for the rest of his life, passing on his passion for the hospital to his famous daughter, actress Marlo Thomas.
Although "Make Room for Daddy" was still doing well in the ratings, Thomas decided that after 11 seasons, it was time to move on and brought the show to a close in 1964. That same year, he recorded the role of the Tin Man in "Journey Back to Oz" (1964, 1974), an animated follow-up to "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), with Liza Minnelli taking over from her mother, Judy Garland, as Dorothy. However, thanks to behind-the-scenes financing problems, the film did not appear in theatres until an entire decade later, where it made little impact and went quickly to television. After the demise of "The Real McCoys," Thomas produced another vehicle for Walter Brennan called "The Tycoon" (ABC, 1964-65), which featured the elderly actor as an eccentric millionaire, but lightning failed to strike twice. Westerns were all the rage on television during the 1960s and Thomas tried his hand at sending up the genre with the short-lived "Rango" (ABC, 1967), featuring comedian Tim Conway as the title character, a hapless Texas Ranger with an equally dimwitted Indian sidekick named Pink Cloud (Guy Marks). A more serious and reverent approach paid off somewhat better with "The Guns of Will Sonnett" (ABC, 1967-69), again toplined by Brennan, which managed a run of two seasons. On the performing front, his attempt to mount a musical-comedy-variety show with the "The Danny Thomas Hour" (NBC, 1967-68) limped off the air after only a single season.
More popular than any of his recent productions was "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1973), about a trio of young lawbreakers given the choice of going to jail or working for the police. Thanks to their age and overall hipness, they are able to take on certain types of felons the regular police officers cannot. The show enjoyed a five-year run and was looked upon with great affection in later years for its inadvertent campiness. Movies were also a big draw on television at the time and productions made specifically for the medium were being produced in increasingly large numbers. Thomas tapped into that market with a handful of TV movies, including "Carter's Army" (ABC, 1970), which centered around a squadron of African-American soldiers during World War II and featured Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor in early roles.
During the 1960s, a trio of "Make Room for Daddy" reunion specials had done well enough in the ratings, that Thomas produced a new incarnation called "Make Room for Granddaddy" (ABC, 1970-71). He was joined by several performers from the original show on that new venture, but it was not renewed. Undaunted, Thomas tried several more times in the ensuing years to get another sitcom going. "The Practice" (NBC, 1976-77) featured him as a doctor, but also only made it through one year. He returned in "I'm a Big Girl Now" (ABC, 1980-81), playing a dentist; again, audiences responded with a collective shrug. "One Big Family" (syndicated, 1986-87) featured him as a retired comedian who acts as a father figure for his five orphaned nieces and nephews. Even with the advantages that syndication sometimes brought, "One Big Family" still did not catch on.
Now in his seventies, Thomas contented himself with making occasional guest star appearances and nightclub performances, and also published his autobiography, entitled fittingly enough, Make Room for Danny, in 1990. Unfortunately, only a few months after the book hit stores, Thomas suffered a fatal heart attack on Feb. 6, 1991. He was survived by Rose Marie Mantell Thomas, his wife of 55 years, and three children, including Marlo Thomas, who had a long and successful career of her own and was best known for the TV sitcom "That Girl" (ABC, 1966-1971). Danny Thomas' final credit was a guest appearance on "Empty Nest" (NBC, 1988-1995) for which he received an Emmy nomination. He was also the recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his considerable accomplishments on television, but his greatest contribution to humankind would most definitely be his involvement in the creation of St. Jude Children's Hospital.
By John Charles
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