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Danny Thomas' Story

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One of 10 children born to Lebanese immigrant parents, Danny Thomas entered the world during a blizzard in Deerfield, Michigan, on January 6, 1912. He began to help support the family at age 10 by selling newspapers, and at 11 he started selling candy in a vaudeville theater, a job he held for seven years.

Danny saved enough from jobs as a bus boy, punch-press operators assistant and a lumber yard watchman to buy a suit and a couple of shirts so he could go to Detroit to look for a job in show business. One of his first jobs in Detroit was on a radio show called The Happy Hour Club. A pretty, dark-haired Italian girl named Rose Marie Mantel eventually joined the program. Danny rode the same streetcar as Rose Marie every day just to see her, and he soon proposed.

Despite his hard work in nightclubs and radio, Danny wasn't getting anywhere in his career. He was married and expecting his first child, Margaret (later nicknamed Marlo) when he attended church one Sunday. He was so moved during the Mass that he placed all the money he had -- $7 -- in the collection box. When he realized what he had done, he was distraught and prayed for a way to pay the looming hospital bill. "I've given my last seven bucks," he said. "And I need it back tenfold because I've got a kid on the way." The next morning, he got a call with a job offer to perform a skit at a sales convention. The pay: $75. Danny had learned the power of prayer. A few years later, Danny reached another turning point in his career. Looking for direction, he again turned to the church. Praying to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, Danny said, “Help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine where the poor and the helpless and the hopeless may come for comfort and aid.”

In less than a year, Danny was earning $500 a week at the 5100 Club in Chicago and Abe Lastfogel, head of the William Morris Agency, took over as his personal manager. Danny went on to become one of the best-loved entertainers of his time, starring in shows in New York and Chicago, Hollywood movies and in the television series Make Room for Daddy, which became one of the most successful and honored family comedy shows in television history.

The series, which was actually based on Danny’s own life, depicted the comedian as an entertainer whose main problem was trying to balance his work with spending as much time as possible with his family. The series won many awards, including five Emmys. After 11 seasons, and with his show still among the top 10 in ratings, Danny voluntarily ended the series.

Danny’s talents didn’t end in front of the camera. He also was a successful television producer. With Sheldon Leonard they created T & L Productions, which was responsible for such iconic series as the Andy Griffith Show, the Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, The Real McCoys and the Joey Bishop Show. He later formed Thomas-Spelling Productions with Aaron Spelling and their company’s hits included Mod Squad and The Guns of Will Sonnett.

But Danny Thomas never forgot his promise to St Jude and decided that the best way to thank the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes was to build a hospital to care for the most helpless: children with hopeless diseases. No matter how poor, no matter their religion, no matter their race, the doors to his hospital would always be open.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would be a unique children’s hospital, one devoted to curing catastrophic childhood diseases such as cancer and sickle cell disease. But Danny envisioned more than just a hospital. This would be a research center and a treatment center under one roof for the study of disease that would be available for the children of the world.

Danny gave of himself wholeheartedly, contributing his talents, time and money in the effort to realize his dream that no child should die in the dawn of life. And he made the promise that no child would ever be turned away because of a family's inability to pay. He created ALSAC, the fundraising arm that would support St Jude. He turned to his fellow Americans of Arabic-speaking heritage, and asked their help in raising the first funds to build and maintain the hospital. And then he reached out to all Americans whose generous response has helped to make ALSAC the nation’s second-largest health care charity and is supported by the efforts of more than 1 million volunteers across America.

Danny’s dream became a reality when St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened in 1962. He lived to see his hospital become a beacon of hope for the catastrophically ill children of the world. Danny died on February 6, 1991, just two days after celebrating the hospital’s 29th anniversary. Today, his children, Marlo, Terre and Tony Thomas, carry on their father’s work and remain a driving force in fulfilling his mission to find cures and save the lives of precious children.

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