Danny Thomas, 79, star of the popular tv series “Make Room For Daddy” and producer of numerous hit shows during the ’60s and ’70s, died Feb. 6 in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack.
Thomas made a guest appearance on the Feb. 2 episode of the NBC series “Empty Nest” as an aging physician. He appeared to be in good health and recently completed a tour promoting his new book, “Make Room For Danny,” including a guest spot on “The Tonight Show.”
“Make Room for Daddy,” renamed “The Danny Thomas Show” after its first three seasons, was one of tv’s longest-running family comedies, airing on ABC from 1953 to 1964. Thomas, who played nightclub singer and comedian Danny Williams, won an Emmy for the show in 1954.
Jean Hagen played his first wife, Margaret, followed by Marjorie Lord as his second wife, Kathy; Angela Cartwright played Kathy’s daughter, Linda, and Rusty Hamer played his son, Rusty. Sherry Jackson and Penney Parker played his daughter, Terry.
“Make Room For Daddy” was repeated in daytime during the ’60s on CBS-TV and currently is seen on Nickelodeon’s Nick At Nite.
Thomas appeared in a number of other series, though none could recapture the success of “Make Room”- including “Make Room For Granddaddy,” which brought back several original castmembers and ran one season on ABC in 1970. Another comedy, “The Practice,” followed on NBC in 1976.
His most recent network sitcom was ABC’s “I’m A Big Girl Now,” in which he played the father of Diana Canova, in 1980. He also starred in “One Big Family,” a firstrun syndicated comedy that aired in 1986 to 1987.
During the ’60s, Thomas also made enormous contributions behind the cameras, partnering with Sheldon Leonard and Aaron Spelling to create such programs as “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle, USMC” and “The Mod Squad.”
Thomas’ children also have enjoyed considerable success in tv. His daughter, actress Mario Thomas, who is married to talkshow host Phil Donahue, starred in the comedy series “That Girl,” which ran from 1966-71 on ABC. The elder Thomas made occasional cameo appearances on the series.
Son Tony Thomas is a partner in Witt-Thomas Prods. His credits include “The Golden Girls,” “Empty Nest” and “Beauty And The Beast.”
When Thomas was a struggling entertainer, he prayed to St. Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases. He vowed then that some day he would build a shrine to the saint. He founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., in 1962 and regularly made appearances in behalf of the hospital. It is dedicated to finding cures for children’s cancer and other catastrophic children’s diseases.
Born Amos Jacobs in Deerfield, Mich., the comedian grew up in a large Lebanese Catholic family in Toledo, Ohio. After holding a number of odd jobs, he moved to Chicago with the aim of becoming a radio actor.
He was making a good living as a radio actor when he married Rose Marie Cassaniti in 1936. Their lives changed when he took a $50-a-week job as emcee at Chicago’s 5100 Club. He stayed three years, adopting a new name from brothers Danny and Thomas. He moved on first to the Chez Paree in Chicago, then to national notoriety.
Another turning point in Thomas’ career came after his success in nightclubs and radio. During an interview in the ’80s he fondly recalled that studio mogul Louis B. Mayer advised him to have plastic surgery on his nose if he wanted to be a dramatic actor. Thomas refused.
Though Thomas is best known for television, his film credits include “The Unfinished Dance,” “The Big City,” “Call Me Mister,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and the 1952 version of “The Jazz Singer.”
Also survived by his daughter Theresa.