One of nine children, Danny Thomas was born in Deerfield, Michigan, to Charles Yakhoob Kairouz and his wife Margaret Taouk on January 6, 1912. His parents were Maronite Catholic immigrants from Lebanon. Thomas was raised inToledo, Ohio, attending St. Francis de Sales Church (Roman Catholic), Woodward High School and finally The University of Toledo, where he was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Thomas was confirmed in the Catholic Church by the bishop of Toledo, Samuel Stritch. Stritch, a native of Tennessee, was a lifelong spiritual advisor for Thomas, and urged him to financially support the St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. He married Rose Marie Cassaniti in 1936, a week after his 24th birthday.
In 1932, Thomas began performing on radio in Detroit at WMBC on The Happy Hour Club. Thomas first performed under his Anglicized birth name, "Amos Jacobs Kairouz." After he moved to Chicago in 1940, Thomas did not want his friends and family to know that he went back into working clubs where the salary was better, so he came up with the pseudonym "Danny Thomas" (after two of his brothers).
He can be found living in Ward 6, Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio in the 1920 U. S. Census as Amos Jacobs, the same in the 1930 Census, and in 1940 living in Ward 2, Detroit, Detroit City, Wayne, Michigan as Amos J. Jacobs, a Radio and Theatrical Artist. Further, the 1930 Census states his parents were born in Syria; while the 1920 Census states that they were born in "Seria," and that their Mother tongue is "Serian."
Thomas first reached mass audiences on network radio in the 1940s playing shifty brother-in-law Amos in The Bickersons, which began as sketches on the music-comedy show Drene Time, co-hosted by Don Ameche and Frances Langford. Thomas also portrayed himself as a scatterbrained Lothario on this show. His other network radio work included a stint as "Jerry Dingle" the postman on Fanny Brice's The Baby Snooks Show, and appearances on the popular NBC variety program, The Big Show, hosted by stage legend Tallulah Bankhead.
In films, Thomas starred in The Jazz Singer opposite the popular contemporary vocalist Peggy Lee, a 1952 remake of the 1927 original, and played songwriterGus Kahn opposite Doris Day in the 1951 film biography I'll See You in My Dreams.
Thomas enjoyed a successful 13-year run (1953–1965) on Make Room For Daddy, later known as The Danny Thomas Show. On January 1, 1959, Thomas appeared with his Make Room For Daddy child stars, Angela Cartwright and Rusty Hamer, in an episode of NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Cartwright played the role of Danny Williams's stepdaughter, Linda Williams, between 1957 and 1964, for 170 episodes. The on-and off-screen chemistry of Thomas and Cartwright was largely responsible for the success of the show. The show was produced at Desilu Studios, where Lucille Ball was appearing alongside Desi Arnaz Sr. in I Love Lucy, and it featured several guest stars who went on to star in their own shows, including Andy Griffith (The Andy Griffith Showaka Mayberry RFD), Joey Bishop, and Bill Bixby(My Favorite Martian and others). He also scored a major success at the London Palladium, in the years when many big American stars appeared there.
In the 1970s, the program was revived, but had a short run, under the title Make Room for Granddaddy. (See below.)
Danny Thomas was a struggling young comic when he met Rose Marie Mantell (born Rose Marie Cassaniti), who had a singing career with her own radio show in Detroit, Michigan. They were married on January 15, 1936 and had three children, Margaret Julia ("Marlo"), Theresa ("Terre") and Charles Anthony ("Tony") Thomas. Thomas's children followed him into entertainment in various capacities: his daughter Marlo is an actress, his son Tony Thomas is a television producer, and his daughter Terre Thomas is an accomplished singer-songwriter. Thomas was also the son-in-law of Marie "Mary" Cassaniti (1896–1972), a drummer and percussionist for "Marie's Merry Music Makers."
Thomas was initiated, passed, and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason Freemasonry at Gothic Lodge #270 F&AM located at Hamilton Square, NJ on March 15, 1984 by special dispensation of the NJ Grand Master. During May 1985, he was made a 32° Mason and also a Noble in Al Malaikah Shrine located at Los Angeles, CA. Thomas also filmed the introduction to the Masonic Service Association's movie, "When the Band Stops Playing".
A devout Maronite Catholic, Thomas was named a Knight Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre by Pope Paul VI in recognition of his services to the church and the community. He was a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan presented Thomas with a Congressional Gold Medal honoring him for his work with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Thomas was one of the original owners of the Miami Dolphins, along with Joe Robbie, but he sold his ownership share soon after the purchase. He was an avid golfer, claimed a ten golf handicap, and competed with Sam Snead in a charity event. Two PGA Tour tournaments bore his name: the Danny Thomas-Diplomat Classic in south Florida in 1969 and the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic from 1970 to 1984. He was also the first non-Jewish member of the Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.
Thomas died on February 6, 1991, of heart failure at age 79. He had filmed a commercial for St. Jude Hospital a few days before his death, which aired posthumously. He is interred in amausoleum on the grounds of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Cassaniti, his wife of 55 years, was interred with him on the grounds of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis after her death in July 2000. Thomas was a posthumous recipient of the 2004 Bob Hope Humanitarian Award.
On February 16, 2012, the United States Postal Service issued a first class forever stamp honoring Thomas as an entertainer and humanitarian. The Danny Thomas Forever Stamp features an oil-on-panel painting depicting a smiling, tuxedo-clad Thomas in the foreground and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in the background. Tim O’Brien created the artwork for the Danny Thomas Forever Stamp, which was designed by Greg Breeding. William J. Glicker served as art director. Joining together to dedicate the stamp were Guy Cottrell, chief postal inspector and dedicating official; Thomas' son and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital board member, Tony; Richard Shadyac Jr., chief executive officer, ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Dr. William E. Evans, director and chief executive officer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and Stephen Kearney, manager, Stamp Services, U.S. Postal Service.