by Danny Thomas with Bill Davidson
The late Danny Thomas built a major career on his skill at telling full-flavored, dialect-rich stories of Irish renegades, rabbis, elderly Jews, priests and traveling salesman with car trouble. This autobiography could use more of the spice and seasoning that made Thomas a toast of the town and a few continents, but it is a genial summation of his life.
A snowstorm kept the local doctor away, so the future comic was born with the aid of a veterinarian, in Michigan in 1912. He began life as Muzyad Yakhoob (“Muzzy” for short), but when his Lebanese father Americanized the names of the 10 Yakhoob children, Muzyad became Amos Jacobs. Later, when he began working Chicago nightclubs, it was as Danny Thomas. Close friends like Frank Sinatra called him Jake; when riled, his wife. Rose Marie, called him Amos.
Thomas writes amusingly and poignantly of his large, loving family, the aunt and uncle who helped raise him, the struggles indigenous to a showbiz career. On a Lone Ranger radio show in Detroit, he was hired to make the sound of horses’ hooves by beating his chest with toilet plungers. The “speaking” part consisted of whinnying. He was down to his last 85 cents a week before his first child. Margaret Julia (Mario), was born. His wife kept suggesting the grocery business would be a better career path.
There are a few of Thomas’s signature stories, anecdotes about Presidents and showbiz pals who tease him about his religious faith (“Danny gets stopped by the highway patrol because he has stained-glass windows in his car.” says Bob Hope), but the book works best when it chronicles the push from rags to riches.
Once Danny makes it to Hollywood (and resists all entreaties to have a nose job) and rises to sitcom fame, things lake on an “and then I wrote”” quality. Some of Thomas’s comments about his children are distracting too. He notes, for example, that Mario, indulging her overprotective dad. would stay at the family home when visiting California without husband Phil Donahue. But, he assures us, “Marlo is a strong, self-sufficient woman who would be perfectly safe at the Beverly Hills Hotel.” Quite a claim to make for a 53-year-old.
Still, Thomas’s death in February gives the book the tone of a pleasant farewell. He writes, for instance: “Who would have thought that my youngest child. Tony [a partner in an independent production company], creator of The Golden Girls, would have turned out to be as spectacularly successful as he did?” Same to you. Danny boy. (Putnam, $22.95)