One of nine children born to immigrant parents, Danny Thomas entered the world during a blizzard in Deerfield, Mich., on Jan. 6, 1912. He began to help support the family at age 10 by selling newspapers, and at 11 he became a candy maker in a burlesque theater, a job he held for seven years.
Danny saved enough from jobs as a bus boy, punch-press operator's assistant, and a lumber yard watchman to buy a couple of suits and several pairs of shoes so he could go to Detroit to look for a job in show business. One of his first jobs in Detroit was that of a singer on a radio show called "The Happy Hour Club." On the same program was a pretty, dark-haired Italian girl named Rose Marie Mantell. Danny escorted her home on the streetcar for three years before he proposed.
When Rose Marie was about to give birth to their first child, Margaret (later Marlo), the Thomases were leading a precarious life with Danny trying to establish himself as an entertainer. He was torn between his dedication to his work and his responsibility to his wife and their new baby. Desperate, Danny sought relief in prayer. He knelt before the statue of St. Jude, the patron saint of the hopeless, and begged for a sign: should he or should he not remain in show business? Impulsively, Danny promised to erect a shrine to St. Jude if the saint would show Danny his way in life.
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," (ABC-TV), which evolved into one of the most successful and honored family comedy shows in television history.
The series, which was actually based on 14 years of Danny's own life, depicted the comedian as an entertainer whose main problem was 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.
Throughout his successes, Danny never forgot his promise to St. Jude. Danny told his close friend and mentor, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, Samuel Cardinal Stritch, about his pledge to build a shrine to the saint. During their conversation, an idea began to take shape. The shrine would be a hospital for needy children, a place where they would be cared for regardless of race, religion or ability to pay - a hospital where no suffering child would be turned away.
Never one to stand back and let others do the work, Danny gave of himself wholeheartedly in the effort to realize his dream, contributing his talents, time and money. From Danny's pledge that hospital care would be accessible to all children, regardless of their ability to pay, grew ALSAC®, one of the most successful fund-raising organizations in American history.