Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Blog
Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz, who later took the name Danny Thomas, was born in Deerfield, Michigan in 1912 to Lebanese immigrants Charles Yakhoob Kairouz and Margaret Taouk. After graduating from the University of Toledo, Thomas decided to pursue a career in entertainment, first performing comedy on The Happy Hour Club on local Detroit Radio Station WMBC.
Thomas married his wife of 55 years, Rose Marie Mantell, in 1936 and was still a struggling entertainer when they were expecting their first baby. Thomas went to church and one day, was so moved by the service that he offered his last $7 in the collection box. He prayed to Saint Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes, to help him provide for his growing family. A week later, Thomas was offered a gig that paid him $70, ten times the amount he donated to the church. Thomas promised St. Jude that if he made it big, he would build a shrine in his honor.
Thomas got his big break in 1940 with a recurring part in the sketch The Bickersons on the radio show Drene Time. Soon after, Danny Thomas won starring roles in classic movies still beloved today. He was cast opposite Peggy Lee in The Jazz Singer and also starred opposite Doris Day in I’ll See You in My Dreams.
Thomas became a household name as the headliner for thirteen years on the sitcom Make Room for Daddy, which later changed its name to The Danny Thomas Show. The show was produced by Desilu Studios and served as a launching platform for many of televisions greatest stars; Andy Griffith, Joey Bishop, and Bill Bixby all started off as guests on Thomas’s show. In 1970, the show was revived for a year as Make Room for Granddaddy.
After triumphs on the screen, Thomas looked to succeed behind it, and so he became a prominent producer. He produced legendary TV sitcoms like The Mod Squad, The Real McCoys, The Tycoon, The Guns of Will Sonnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Thomas is also credited for discovering the much-loved American actress Mary Tyler Moore.
Not one to forget his past, Thomas followed through with his promise to St. Jude by founding the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. As a means of funding his dream, Thomas turned to his fellow Americans of Arab heritage to help raise funds for the research hospital as a way of thanking the United States for opening its doors of freedom to their immigrant forefathers. 100 representatives of the Arab American community in Chicago formed the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, now the third largest healthcare charity in the United States. Central to the hospital’s mission is Thomas’ belief that “no child should die in the dawn of life.” The hospital provides specialized care and advanced research to treat catastrophic illnesses, and is a leader in increasing the survival rate of leukemia patients, having raised survival rate for children from 4% when the hospital was first founded to 94% today.
Thomas’ three children all followed in his footsteps, entering showbiz through different avenues. Thomas’ daughter, Marlo, is a popular American actress, producer, and social activist. His son, Tony, is a television producer famous for his TV series Golden Girls and Beauty and the Beast, and Thomas’ second daughter, Terre, is an accomplished singer-songwriter. To this day, Marlo, Tony, and Terre continue to carry on their parents’ work as board members of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and remain a driving force in fulfilling their father’s mission.
In recognition of his philanthropic efforts, Thomas was named a Knight Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre by Pope Paul VI and was a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, presented to him by President Ronald Reagan for his service to the community through St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1990 and was honored with the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, posthumously, in 2004.
A prodigious entertainer and humanitarian, Danny Thomas’s life was dedicated to returning his good fortune to those who needed it the most in his community, either through the power of comedy or the graces of medicine. He passed away in 1991, leaving behind an unforgettable legacy and forever serving as an inspiration to his proud Arab, immigrant, and greater American communities.
Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.