Yes, Virginia, There Is A Danny Thomas

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

I’ve done a lot of stand-up, and my favorite shows have always been fundraising events. I enjoy doing something with my comedy to help others, and the audiences are always so enthusiastic. People always make more of an effort to get off the couch, put on pants, and go out for a worthy cause.

The comedy community has a long history of donating their time and talents to those who need it most.

Comedian and television host Ellen DeGeneres supports numerous organizations, such as the Ellen for the Cure campaign, which has raised millions of dollars for Susan G. Komen For The Cure. After Hurricane Katrina devastated her hometown of New Orleans, Ellen raised over 10 million dollars to help residents get back on their feet.

Comedian and actor Denis Leary created the Leary Firefighters Foundation after six firefighters in his hometown of Worcester, MA were killed in a warehouse fire. The organization provides funding for fire departments so they can acquire necessary equipment, technology, and training

After the attacks of 9/11, the foundation established The Fund for New York’s Bravest to raise money for the families of the 343 firefighters who perished in the line of duty.

Beginning in 1941 and continuing for half a century, comedian Bob Hope headlined USO tours, bringing the gift of laughter to U.S. military men and women around the world.

Of the 144 episodes of his radio program aired during World War II, only nine originated from NBC’s studios. The others all took place at military bases.

In 1943, Hope, with a group of entertainers known as the Hope Gypsies, toured England, Italy and North Africa with the USO. “The European theater,” Hope said, “was a little like vaudeville with foxholes.”

Hope made an appearance in a training film “Welcome to Britain,” starring Burgess Meredith, which explained English customs to newly arriving American GIs. Meredith wrote that “the most wonderful thing about England right now is Bob Hope. There isn’t a hospital ward that he hasn’t dropped into and given a show; there isn’t a unit anywhere that isn’t either talking about his jokes or anticipating them. What a gift laughter is!”

A big thrill for Hope on that trip was meeting Winston Churchill at Ten Downing Street. Hope later admitted that, when left alone in the prime minister’s study, he stole some of his stationery.

The Gypsies shows never bombed, but occasionally they had bombs dropped near them. In Palermo, they had a narrow escape with their lives when 100 Nazi Luftwaffe planes dive-bombed the harbor, destroying the area around the troupe’s hotel a few blocks away.

John Steinbeck, working as a war correspondent, traveled in two cities with the Gypsies. He wrote, “Probably the most difficult, thing of all, is to be funny in a hospital. Bob Hope and company must come into this quiet, lonesome place and bring laughter up out of the black water. It hurts many of the men to laugh, hurts the knitting bones, strains at sutured incisions, and yet the laughter is a great medicine.”

A bizarre example of how much Hope was respected for his work with the USO was revealed in an interview with a kidnapper. In 1963, Frank Sinatra Jr. was abducted by Barry Keenan and held for ransom.  In a 1998 interview in The Washington Post, Keenan, said: “I originally thought of Tony Hope (Bob’s son), but Bob Hope had been very active with entertaining the troops and seemed like an all-around good guy. Kidnapping Tony didn’t seem like a very American thing to do.”

 Hope continued to entertain US troops for almost 50 years after World War II. He and his wife Dolores spent many of their Christmases with the troops.

In 1997, Bob Hope was designated an honorary veteran by Congress for his humanitarian services to the U.S. Armed Forces. He is the only individual in history to have earned this honor.

One of my favorite stories of faith, generosity, and humanitarianism is that of Danny Thomas and St. Jude Hospital.

In 1937, 25-year-old Danny Thomas was not having much success in in show business. Although he worked hard in nightclubs and on the radio, he wasn’t getting anywhere in his career. He wondered if his dreams were hopeless. In addition, he and his wife, Rose, were about to have their first baby (Marlo) and he didn’t have enough money to pay the hospital bill. So he went to church to pray for guidance.   He prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, asking “Please give me a sign to help me find my way in life; just a sign that I’m going in the right direction, and someday I’ll build a shrine in your name.” Then, with only $10 in his pocket, Danny put $7 in the collection basket, and said to St. Jude that he needed10 times that amount to pay for the hospital bill. The next day, he was offered a job playing a singing toothbrush in a radio commercial. The pay was $75.  He took this as a sign that he was indeed on the right path with his career.

Shortly after, a Hollywood agent, who had heard about this talented young comedian, came to Chicago to see him and ended up taking him back to Hollywood where Danny eventually became a very successful comedian, singer, and actor.   And he did not forget his promise to St. Jude.

In the early 1950s, he and Rose began traveling the United States to help raise funds to build a hospital for the research and treatment of catastrophic childhood diseases.

Danny had once read a newspaper article about a young African-American boy in Mississippi who was struck by a car, and because no nearby emergency room would take a black child, he died. He carried the clipping of that story in his wallet for many years.

When he asked his friend and lifelong spiritual advisor, Cardinal Stritch, for help with his endeavor, Danny showed the Cardinal the clipping he had been carrying in his wallet and said, “I want to put my hospital in the South.” The Cardinal, a native of Tennessee, advised him to locate the hospital in Memphis.

Believing that “no child should die in the dawn of life,” Danny Thomas, with help from Dr. Lemuel Diggs and Anthony Abraham, opened the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1962.

Since then, St. Jude has treated children from 70 countries. The hospital cares for about 7,800 patients per year, absorbing all expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. Families never receive a bill, and St. Jude also assists them with travel, food and lodging.

At this time of the year, when people think that celebrating Christmas involves a month-long orgy of shopping, beginning with Black Friday’s pre-dawn Grand Guignol spectacle of “A Mall and the Night Visitors,” give some thought about what this holiday was supposed to be about.

The gift that keeps on giving is the gift of giving.

Remember whose birthday you’re supposed to be celebrating, and what He might like to receive.  No, not a gift card to “Frankincense, Myrrh, and Beyond.”

I think He would prefer peace on earth; compassion to those in need.  You know, the same thing He asked for last year.

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