Danny Thomas had the heart of a saint — but some called him a phony

You might be surprised to learn why the classic TV legend never said no to a good cause.

Many classic TV shows touched on how important charity was.

Some TV characters gave too little. On The Andy Griffith Show, "Opie’s Charity" finds Sheriff Andy’s son being miserly with his donations.

Other TV characters gave everything they had. On The Addams Family, "Morticia’s Favorite Charity" found the family donating their most precious family heirlooms. It was a charitable moment so memorable, this episode is one of the few referenced in the popular Nineties reboot movie.

But behind the scenes of classic TV shows, there was one figure in the Fifties and Sixties who never heard of a good cause he didn’t immediately want to support.

Danny Thomas told the United Press International in 1958 that he thought he might’ve worked with "almost every major organization and charity in the United States."

Because Thomas was so charitable with his free time, some people started seeing his charity work as just another big part of his act. They considered the TV star a phony only working with charities for the publicity.

"I’ve been accused of using it as a gimmick, as a meaning of building a high rating on my show," Thomas explained.

The kerfuffle arose in 1957 when Thomas was promoting his show against the popular Twenty-One. He declared that it was more important for his show to get a better rating than the game show because "the building at St. Jude hospital is at stake!"

"A staunch Catholic friend of mine went into a tirade against Thomas," the syndicated column TV Keynotes wrote in papers across the country, under the headline Danny Thomas Charity Gimmick Is Assailed. "He resented sentimental Danny's use of St. Jude to get himself publicity and a good rating."

"Some unkind citizen once wrote that I was using St. Jude Hospital to further my career," Thomas complained weeks later in an interview with Newsday. "Ridiculous. Without my career, there would never have been a St. Jude Hospital."

What those doubters didn’t know was that Thomas, who was deeply spiritual as a devout Catholic, had experienced a pivotal moment in his life where afterward, it made sense to him to give back.

It happened during one of the lowest moments in Thomas’ career. He’d been fundraising to keep his entertainment career going, but he couldn’t make ends meet.

One night he prayed to Saint Jude, the patron saint of the hopeless, and he asked for a sign. Later that same day, when he arrived home, a couple telegrams sat waiting. As he opened one after another, he discovered he had not one but two job opportunities.

It was the sign he needed to keep going with show business, and after that, things never got hopeless again for the rising TV star.

His wife Rosemarie told the UPI that she suspected her husband had a guilty complex, wanting to share his wealth with those in need, serving as a saint for the hopeless himself by fundraising and rarely turning away pleas for help from a good cause. She could see this work was wearing her husband out.

By the end of the 1950s, Thomas was worried that all the charity work was taking a toll on him, too. At this point, the cause he’d thrown himself behind the most was building a children’s hospital in Tennessee.

Fittingly, it was a Saint Jude Hospital, named for the saint who had inspired Thomas to act so long ago. Over six years, Thomas had raised $1,250,000 for the hospital, and all he needed was a final $500,000 to get construction started.

Thomas saw the hospital as urgent because it would provide free treatment to kids suffering from leukemia. He was trying to build a place where every kid from every background could heal, so he put out an album where half the profits would go to the hospital and the other half would go to other charities sponsoring the record’s production.

Over all his charity work, Thomas discovered he felt most compelled to help kids. He knew to do the most for them, he had to start cutting back on some of his other charity work, mostly because he knew there was a chance all those doubters who thought he was in it for publicity might start tuning him out.

"I’m limiting myself to children’s work," Thomas said. "If you aren’t careful, you spread yourself too thin. I don’t want the public to say, 'Oh, no, not Danny Thomas again,' every time they see me make an appeal for funds."

What those doubters should have realized is that Thomas’ charity work was a core part of who he was, and after becoming a star, that saintly nature he had about him never changed a day in his life, no matter how famous he got.

"The hospital is my way of saying ‘thank you’ for all that I have come to be," Thomas said.

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54 Comments

Snickers 30 months ago
Mr. Thomas was a class act. Thank you sir for caring for the children and God Bless.
MichaelSkaggs 31 months ago
Also, all the celebrities who appear at St. Jude events do so free of charge. The most anyone has ever asked for are dinner reservations at local restaurants.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 32 months ago
Danny Thomas,Sheldon Leonard,And Louis F.Edelman RIP.
gmail 32 months ago
One final comment, St. Jude ask for $19.00 a month. If you can't afford there request then give a dollar, you will feel good every month, one less soda, pizza, etc.
gmail 32 months ago
A brain tumor cure developed by St. Jude Hospital organization saved my life at 42. There were 4 operations, but today at 65, still good health. Long time St. Jude donator. Every month, the amount more than they are asking for, is deducted from my account. It will continue long after I'm gone. Plus a bonus once the estate is settled.
RobertM 33 months ago
My late parents donated money to the Saint Jude Hospital for many years--in fact, there was a check in the envelope, due to be sent out, when we heard the news of Danny Thomas' death.
JHP 33 months ago
he is the Master on charity - CASE CLOSED - gees
ElliotJames 33 months ago
Why dredge up this old garbage? He did great things for humanity.
tvnutt76 33 months ago
According to another version of the story, Marlo has just been born and the family was broke. He used the last money in his wallet to light a candle to St. Jude asking for guidance in his career and help to pay the hospital bill. Then he started getting work. Now some say he always remained down to Earth but that the wealth went to his wife and children's heads.
JHP tvnutt76 33 months ago
reading what you typed - I got goose bumps on my hairy body
MikefromJersey 33 months ago
Many considered Danny the greatest nightclub entertainer of all time. They filmed one gig
at a Vegas hotel for The Danny Thomas Show, though maintaining the fiction he was "Danny
Williams". The biggest stars of Hollywood flocked to his performances.
He was on That Girl a few times, the writers sneaking in a in joke here and there for
the savvy viewer. In one episode both he and his son showed up to interact with Marlo.
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Pacificsun Nala92129 33 months ago
The topic was initiated by MeTV, the reason for these comments.
Neither in defense or offence is some background:

Both raised Catholic Ole Marlo and Phil married for 40 years, which Donahue admits, does not make him a good Catholic, being that it’s his second marriage. On the other hand he and Marlo have espoused controversial subjects featured on his longest running syndicated show (of its time). Discussing issues
that divide liberals and conservatives such as abortion, consumer protection, civil rights and war issues. He promoted free speech (a foreign concept in this day) and initiated the forum for discussions between guests and the audience. (A novel concept when it originated). He pioneered the talk-show format, unafraid of sponsorship pushback, and Ole Marlo has been at his side. Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Donahue The problem is that no ideology is perfect and about the most that can be expected about any of it, is for people to act from their conscience and be responsible for it. As for the privilege of doing so is a right that needs protection. Wonder if they could be thinking along those lines …. just a thought.
JHP Pacificsun 32 months ago
I agree - but that thought is under the bridge and out to sea - never to be seen or heard again
AmyAnn Nala92129 18 months ago
Very true! Marlo Thomas is a disgrace to Danny's memory!
Think20020 Nala92129 17 months ago
Cool that your religion is so flexible-calling abortion a sin cause you believe once there are 2 cells it's a person but your religion also allows you to go on sites like this and lie about others. Cool. Some people feel some constraint not to lie about others even if they are not religious. But you white evangelicals love cherry picking your sins. Don't spread lies about Marlo Thomas. It's not nice. Do onto others as you'd have others do onto you. Marlo Thomas has worked hard on behalf of St. Jude. What have you done?
MichaelFields 33 months ago
I have to look at all the GREAT things St Jude has done, I mean without them thousands of children would have died, so if he did it for what ever reason, it has done more good then pretty much anything else (Even all those Amazon and Tesla owners) have done, sure they gave something but not like this
AmyandSandy 33 months ago
It is so easy to put someone down. But I ask, "What have you done to benefit mankind?" This world could use more people like Danny Thomas
RedSamRackham 33 months ago
* That St. Jude's Children's Hospital has led to great advances in cancer treatment saving many lives beyond the children treated there! ☺
tommodl RedSamRackham 18 months ago
I've been contemplating on whether to donate $19.00 a month for the last 6 months because i wasn't sure if my money would actually go to helping the children or if it would benefit the CEO more. I think I found my answers here.
JERRY6 33 months ago
No matter what good one does in life there will always be those that put them down and call them phony . They should look in the mirror
JHP JERRY6 33 months ago
I'll even go and get the aluminum cans for the mirror
F5Twitster 33 months ago
“One night [Thomas] prayed to Saint Jude, the patron saint of the hopeless, and he asked for a sign. Later that same day, when he arrived home, a couple telegrams sat waiting. As he opened one after another, he discovered he had not one but two job opportunities.”

Uh-huh, and, if instead of praying to St Jude, Thomas had that very morning murdered somebody in his bed, those telegrams STILL would have been waiting for him when he got home. The only difference is that the police likely would have been waiting, too, and he would have had to decline those offers of employment.
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JHP Delmo 33 months ago
he she it is a nut job

there are maybe a dozen floating around here in society
tommodl F5Twitster 18 months ago
What are you talking about. You doing mushrooms 🍄 man?
Think20020 F5Twitster 17 months ago
Danny Thomas told the story about how St. Jude came to be over and over. Yet, unlike many others and unlike some on this thread, he did not impose his beliefs on others. He told the string of events that transpired about the founding of St Jude , why its' mission was cancer rather than having different mission (like a more general hospital) and why he built it in Memphis. He left attributions up to the listener. I worked there, and never heard him say or heard anyone else say that they heard him discuss the attributions. That was the string of events that resulted in one of the most amazing hospital/oncology research institutions in the world. Why and how..he didn't say.
sierra127 33 months ago
And his daughter. Carry It on. Apple don’t fall from the tree. Very nice. Man and family
AmyAnn sierra127 18 months ago
No, in this case, the apple was rotten! Marlo Thomas's pro abortion views are sickening and disgraceful, especially since Danny Thomas's legacy was all about helping children!
Think20020 AmyAnn 17 months ago
You don't know what you are talking about. So why not stop.
Gregory 33 months ago
Wow. He's even better than I thought, and I already thought he was great.
MaryHelen 33 months ago
in my experience, no matter who, what, when, and where, there are always naysayers and doubters, who can't keep their big mouths shut.
OldTVfanatic MaryHelen 33 months ago
Those who hate the godly and noble really hate themselves.
JHP MaryHelen 33 months ago
karma is a "B" - believe it people it will bite you you in the front or the back
MrsPhilHarris 33 months ago
St. Judes’s Hospital is an amazing legacy.
justjeff 33 months ago
Of the number of charities I've supported at various times, St. Jude was my late mother's favorite and mine as well. [Trivia: He was born about two and a half months before my was mother in 1912!]

Danny Thomas was a talented, big-hearted and wonderful performer.

Another take-away from his giving and his legacy is that Thomas was of Lebanese roots (he was (born Amos Muzyad Yaqoob Kairouz).

Because of the rough history of the past 20 years, so many people dump on people from the Middle East and Asia, forgetting that many have Christian and even Jewish roots (although one's religion should *never* be the sole definition of a person)... and so many have contributed to the arts, business, politics and society.

We need more Danny Thomases and less of the haters, racists, political phonies and power-hungry wannabes!
harlow1313 justjeff 33 months ago
People should be treated as individuals. Generalizations are used by the fearful and ignorant.

I don't wish to be lumped in with the world's stereotypical view of U.S. citizens. I simply wish to be treated as an individual.

justjeff harlow1313 33 months ago
Amen to that.
JHP justjeff 33 months ago
amen-a- roni
tommodl justjeff 18 months ago
Bottom line is, God will be the judge, not any human being. I try to make friends with everybody. I don't care if they're black, white, brown, Chinese, Middle Eastern etc. People are People no matter what race or religion. Danny Thomas was the greatest for his charity work. Marlo needs prayer to change her mind on abortion issues.
Think20020 tommodl 17 months ago
How about you have your beliefs; others have their beliefs. Some of them may have same beliefs as you and some different. How about not imposing your beliefs on others.
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