Danny Thomas (1) is one of America’s most popular and famous entertainers and the pride of Lebanese-Americans. But in 1986 he learned that he was not the only show business success in his family. On the same night that year, Danny’s son and daughter made history - each received a Grammy. Tony Thomas won as producer of the Best Comedy Series, The Golden Girls, (2) and Marlo Thomas as Best Dramatic Actress in a TV movie, Nobody’s Child. (3) These are a few of the hundreds of facts that we learn in Marlo Thomas’s new memoir - Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny. (4) Growing Up Laughing offers us an intimate portrait of Danny Thomas and his remarkable family, (5) in-depth interviews by Marlo of twenty-three of America’s most famous comedians, (6) and hundreds of jokes, mostly one-liners, inserted between the chapters. (7)
Here are some of Marlo’s revelations about her family in Growing Up Laughing:
*Danny Thomas’s spouse, Rose Marie Cassaniti, a Sicilian-American, was a gifted singer. At age 19 she had a 15-minute radio show called “The Sweet Singer of Sweet Songs.” In fact, she first met Danny when he auditioned to be the announcer on this program. After she and Danny married, she abandoned her career, although she continued to sing at family events. Danny and Rose Marie’s daughter, Terre, was also a singer and actress, but like mom, she too abandoned her career after marriage.
*Many of Danny Thomas’s stories on stage were embellishments of stories told him by his barber – Harry Gelbert. When Danny used one of Harry’s stories as the basis for one of his own, he always gave Harry credit. (8)
*When Danny Thomas was struggling as a young comic, he prayed to St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, to help him, promising that if he would, Danny would one day build a shrine in his honor. Once Danny made it, he kept his promise. He founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis in 1962 and dedicated years to raising funds for it. (9)
*Marlo discovered that in the sixteen marriages in her family the husbands ruled the roost. When their wives had complaints, the men replied “Where’s she gonna go?” Marlo felt that the women suffered, in her words, “the everyday drip, drip of dissolving self-esteem.” “Marriage,” she concluded, “is like living with a jailer you have to please” and she vowed that she would never marry. Her parents nicknamed her “Miss Independence.” When she was offered a role in That Girl as a wife, she refused it, demanding instead that she be a single, independent woman, to which ABC acquiesced. At the same time, she read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, she met and befriended Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, and she co-founded the Ms. Foundation. Her no-marriage vow collapsed, however, when she met Phil Donahue as a guest on his show in Chicago in 1977. They married in 1980 and remain married today.
*At Danny Thomas’s funeral in 1991, Roger Williams played Danny’s favorite piece, “Autumn Leaves,” two presidents – Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan – spoke, and Milton Berle and Bob Hope gave eulogies. In his remarks Bob Hope quipped that Danny Thomas was so religious that “he had stained glass windows in his car.”
Growing Up Laughing is a touching reminder that our nation is filled with remarkably talented immigrant families who crossed an ocean to start anew. How fortunate we are that they did so. (10)
was later Anglicized to Amos Jacobs.
*“If a man speaks in a forest and no woman can hear him, is he still wrong?”
*“What are the three words a woman never wants to hear when she’s making love? ‘Honey, I’m home.’”
*“I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.”
*“Two Beverly Hills women are shopping on Rodeo Drive when one of them notices a child in a baby carriage. ‘Oh, look at that beautiful baby!’ says the first woman. ‘Aww, how adorable,’ says her friend. ‘Oh, my God, that’s my baby!’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘I recognize the nanny.’”
*“Elizabeth Taylor has more chins than a Chinese phone book.”
*“Women like silent men. They think they’re listening.”
*“What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Jewish mother? Eventually, a Rottweiler let’s go.”
*“I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.”
*“Marriages don’t last. When I meet a guy, the first question I ask myself is: Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?”
*“When I eventually met Mr. Right, I had no idea that his first name was Always.”
*“My husband said he needed more space. So I locked him outside.”
*“Two peanuts were walking down the street and one was a-salted.”
“Mice infested a synagogue. Everyone was terrified. ‘Don’t worry,” said the rabbi, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ The next day all the mice were gone. An older man asked the rabbi, “How did you get rid of all the mice?’ “Easy,’ the rabbi said, ‘I Bar Mitzvahed them. As everyone knows, once they’re Bar Mitzvahed, they never come back.”
*“Fund-raising is the second oldest profession in the world.”
8. Harry Gelbert’s son, Larry, became a comedy writer whose credits include
his show business friends. In fact, most of them continued to help St. Jude’s
after Danny’s death.
received for their achievements in show business, it is clear that the Thomas
family is the single most honored family in the history of American entertainment. (Danny won four Emmys for his TV series, Make Room for Daddy, as well as many other awards.) See footnotes 2 and 3 above.
© 2011 Tom Shipka
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