Marlo Thomas Is Carrying Her Family's Torch

Marlo Thomas has a lot on her mind. A script to read. A podcast to record. A book to write. Her new Williams-Sonoma collection of entertaining essentials. Women's rights. Gun control laws. And always: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. "I honestly can't tell you where my thoughts of St. Jude begin and where they end. If I'm not in a board meeting, I'm on the phone talking to a corporate sponsor, working on a fundraising video, or speaking at a hospital event," she says. Sleep is no escape. "I even dream about the kids and their families," she adds.

Fighting for those who are desperate is Thomas's birthright. It's November 1937, and Thomas's father doesn't have the money to pay the $70 hospital bill for his wife, who has just given birth. Feeling hopeless, the struggling nightclub performer darts in to a church. He feels an inspiration to pray to St. Jude Thaddeus of his Catholic faith, the patron saint of lost causes. Danny Thomas proposes a bargain: Help the first-time father provide for his family, and in return he'll build a shrine to the saint. He places seven of the 10 dollars in his pocket in the collection dish and heads back into the cold Detroit night.

Fifteen years later Danny Thomas is one of America's most popular comedians. His sitcom Make Room for Daddy debuts in 1953, and during its 11-year run he perfects the spit take. He performs in Vegas, hanging out with buddies Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He lives in an opulent Beverly Hills mansion with his wife Rose Marie and their three kids, and the most remarkable part of this story: Thomas keeps his side of the bargain. He starts raising funds for a hospital. Not a wing. Not a lab. He imagines an entire star-shaped medical center devoted to treating and curing children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. And this vision materializes in Memphis.

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