||THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW/MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY
Sitcom about a successful comedian and nightclub entertainer.
351 episodes of 25 minutes duration. 1953 - 1964
Danny Thomas began his career as a comic and singer, but became famous as a television dad. His two situation comedies - Make Room For Daddy and The Danny Thomas Show - ran for a total of eleven years, and made the Lebanese entertainer successful in both acting and television production. One reason is that Thomas convincingly played a blustering, hot-tempered husband and father whose love of his family was never in doubt. Viewers warmed to Thomas’ character and his co-stars, and the series holds up well even today.
Born Amos Alphonsus Muzyad Yakhoob in Deerfield, Michigan on January 6th, 1912, the youngster was raised in Toledo, Ohio, attending Catholic school and later graduating from the University of Toledo. When he began his show business career, the young man first performed under his Anglicised birth name Amos Jacobs, before settling on using the first names of two of his brothers–Danny and Thomas.
Success came slowly, but by the 1940's, Thomas became a success on nightclubs and on radio in various programs such as The Bickersons, Baby Snooks and The Big Show. In films, he starred in the 1952 remake of The Jazz Singer and co-starred with Doris Day in I’ll See You In My Dreams.
Thomas found initial television fame as one of the rotating co-hosts of NBC’s big-budget variety series The Colgate Comedy Hour. But after two years, he tired of the grind, saying "TV is for idiots! I don’t like it....You work years building routines, do them once on TV, and they’re finished. Next thing you know, you are, too." Thomas vowed if he returned to the medium, he would do "a half-hour on film." He would soon get his wish.
In 1953, Thomas signed with ABC, which had just merged with the United Paramount Theater chain. Noting the success of CBS’ I Love Lucy, he hired Desilu Studios to film his new show with multiple cameras before a live studio audience–just like ‘Lucy.’
Working with actor turned producer Sheldon Leonard, the two came up with a family sitcom based on Thomas’ real life: When Thomas went on the road, he left the raising of his children to real-life wife Rose Marie. But when the comic returned home, it was time for another adjustment where dad was the boss. After discarding such titles as The Children’s Hour and Here Comes Daddy, the team came up with the more appealing Make Room For Daddy. Thomas played nightclub entertainer Danny Williams, who was gone for days or weeks at a time from his wife Margaret (Jean Hagen), daughter Terry (Sherry Jackson) and smart-aleck youngster Rusty (Rusty Hamer). Louise Beavers–one of the few African-Americans to appear in a regular television role at the time–was the Williams’ maid Louise. (She later left the series, and her role was taken by Amanda Randolph.)
The show’s humour came from Danny’s interaction with his kids: They would scheme to pull one over on dad, but inevitably, Danny found out and blew his top. Yet at the end, his anger disappeared and forgave his children. The warm moments of ‘Make Room For Daddy’ were a highlight of the series, along with Thomas’ believable performance and the sharp one-liners from both Rusty and Terry. Critics loved the series, and it even won an Emmy award in 1954. But because of ABC’s weak distribution back in television’s early days (it had far fewer primary affiliates than CBS and NBC), Make Room For Daddy was not the blockbuster hit the network had hoped for. It did air on 112 stations during its first season–the best coverage of any ABC programme.
After three seasons, Jean Hagen (who was best-known for her role as squeaky voiced Lina Lamont in the classic musical Singin’ In The Rain) was dissatisfied with her role and left the series altogether. Rather than immediately replacing Hagen, Thomas and his production team simply wrote Margaret Williams out of the show as having died–possibly a first for an American sitcom. The show also received a new title: The Danny Thomas Show. During the 1956-57 season, the entertainer began dating a series of women, finally wooing a beautiful nurse named Kathy Daly (Marjorie Lord), a widow with a young daughter named Linda (Angela Cartwright). The two eventually married, and Danny adopted Linda. Unfortunately, the series ranked 125th in the ratings despite relatively weak competition, thanks to ABC’s affiliate problems. The network and Thomas agreed to part ways, and for the fall of 1957, CBS picked up the series to replace the departing I Love Lucy on Monday nights. With a strong time slot and CBS’ powerful affiliate lineup (195 stations versus just 83 for its last season on ABC), ‘The Danny Thomas Show’ blasted into the top five and remained in the top-20 for the remainder of its run. Thomas had hoped to capture just half of ‘Lucy’s’ audience, but the results surprised even him: “Frankly, we’re producing the same show this year as last. I suppose the network and the time slot are the difference.”
There were tweaks to the successful format: Sid Melton came on board as club owner Charlie Halper; Pat Carroll played his wife Bunny. In the fall of 1958, Thomas felt Sherry Jackson was too old to play his daughter, and the character of Terry was written out (she went away to school). Apparently, Thomas had a change of heart; Terry returned the following year, now played by actress Penny Parker. But again, Terry was written out of the series–this time, after getting married. And there were plenty of guest starts who appeared on The Danny Thomas Show on a regular basis–first and foremost, character actor Hans Conried, who played the eccentric Uncle Tonoose. Other guests included Bill Dana (playing his character Jose Jimenez, setting the stage for his own series in 1963); Annette Funicello (as Italian exchange student Gina) and Pat Harrington Junior as young comic Pat Hannigan. Series producer Sheldon Leonard was seen on-screen occasionally as Danny’s agent, Phil Brokaw.
In 1958, Thomas, Lord, Cartwright and Hamer guest-starred on one of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hours; the plot had the Ricardos renting out their home to the Williams–and Lucy doing her usual damage, culminating in a hilarious courtroom scene with guest star Gale Gordon as the judge. (That episode is considered by fans to be the best of the 13 ‘Lucy-Desi’ hours produced between 1957 and 1960.) Lucille Ball reciprocated with a guest appearance on The Danny Thomas Show that same year.
During the CBS years, the sitcom was sponsored by General Foods’ Post Cereals division, with Thomas and the entire cast pitching the various Post products. General Foods was very happy with the job Thomas was doing–but found through research that a number of viewers in rural parts of the country didn’t like the city slicker. The company urged Thomas and Leonard to come up with a new series that would attract folks who lived in the country.
In a February 1960 episode, Danny Williams and his family took a road trip and found himself detained in the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina by the sheriff, winningly played by Southern comic and actor Andy Griffith. The episode’s success led to ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ which premiered in the fall of 1960 on CBS, with General Foods as its sponsor. The adventures of Andy Taylor and the town of Mayberry lasted for eight high-rated seasons, and was especially popular with rural viewers–just as General Foods had hoped.
Thomas was also instrumental in casting a crucial role for a new sitcom he and Leonard were producing. In 1961, Carl Reiner was looking for a woman to play Laura Petrie, wife of Dick Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Reiner and Leonard went to Thomas for help. He remembered a young actress who auditioned for the role of his daughter; Thomas turned her down because he thought with her small nose, no one would believe she was his offspring! When asked if he knew “any more” girls, Thomas recalled the woman with “three names, no nose and a great big smile.” After a little digging–and a quick audition–the Laura Petrie role went to 24-year-old Mary Tyler Moore. The Dick Van Dyke Show ran for five seasons, winning Emmy awards and acclaim along the way. Thomas later appeared in a classic Dick Van Dyke episode “It May Look Like A Walnut’ as space alien Colac.
Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith were just two of the successful series Thomas either produced or co-produced with Leonard and up-and-coming show runner Aaron Spelling; others included The Real McCoys; The Mod Squad; and The Guns of Will Sonnett.
In 1964, The Danny Thomas Show ended its long run on CBS. Thomas later appeared on an NBC variety series that lasted just one season; an update of his sitcom, Make Room For Granddaddy - with most of the original cast members–had a one-year run on ABC. Thomas tried sitcoms again with The Practice, playing a cranky but affective family physician. The show was good, but it only ran one-and-a-half seasons on NBC.
Thomas would become a popular guest star on many variety shows and sitcoms until his death on February 6th, 1991, at the age of 72. In addition to his rich legacy as a performer and producer, Thomas was a generous philanthropist, thanks to his work founding and raising money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which has treated thousands of kids with cancer and other diseases at no cost to the parents. He also left an entertainment legacy thanks to his children–actress Marlo Thomas, former actress Terre Thomas, and son Tony Thomas, who became a very successful producer himself with such comedy series as The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, Blossom and Nurses.
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