Make Room for Daddy

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Amos Jacobs arrives in Chicago…

It was 1940 in Chicago when a young comedian named, Amos Jacobs – originally Amos Alphonsus Muzyad Yakhoob -  arrived in town looking for work, but there was no work to be had.  Jacob was ready to quit looking when he passed by a church, sat through a mass and was so moved he put his last $7 in the collection box.   Realizing what he’d done, the struggling comedian, who had a baby on the way, quickly knelt to say a prayer.    Within an hour of leaving the church Jacobs landed two acting roles, which would pay him more than ten times what he’d placed in the collection box.  And before the month was up he was headlining in Chicago’s most popular nightclub, The 5100 Club.  By that time Jacobs had chosen a new stage name – Amos Jacobs became Danny Thomas, the first actor to change his name twice.
Amos Jacobs

Amos Jacobs

Life shows

Instead of the traditional telling of jokes or one-liners that were so popular with the public, Danny Thomas’ style was that of a storyteller, often taking 12 to 15 minutes to tell humorous stories of every day life.  Audiences related to him and his star rose with success on radio.  He’d also signed contracts as a bit player for both MGM and Warner Bros.  But none of those paid off as long-term career opportunities.  By the early 1950s, Thomas was interested in television and the sitcom genre, although he never liked the term, “situation comedy,”  “Why should all shows be lumped into the category of ‘situation comedy?’ They should be called ‘life shows,’ because they reflect life. Do you know why they have the tragic and the comic masks in the theater?”  In any case, Danny Thomas thought that was the format that best suited his comedy, but had a difficult time finding a premise that worked until his own children gave him a plausible idea. “Make Room for Daddy.”
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Since Danny Thomas’ own line of work forced him to travel for long periods of time, his wife often asked one of the children to sleep with her, taking turns as the nights passed.  When Danny came home she’d simply say, “Ok, make room for daddy.”  And the idea for his sitcom was born – a father in show business who travels, comes home and deals with “every day” family situations, which incorporated Thomas’ singing and story-telling talents.   As a result, Make Room for Daddy was a combination of domestic comedy and variety program (during Danny’s fictionalized nightclub engagements).  On the show Danny Thomas played Danny Williams and much of the comedy materialized because he was often ill-prepared for the every day troubles and decisions regarding raising a family.  Danny Williams spent a lot of time yelling, trying to relate to the children, while his wife was the voice of reason.  The yelling was part of his charm.  The character Danny Williams was ranked #5 in TV Guide’s list of the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time” (20 June 2004 issue). (IMDB)

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with Angela Cartwright and Rusty Hamer

The family

Following the success of CBS’, I Love Lucy, which began its run in 1951, there was a large number of family-driven situation comedies, but during its first season (1953-1954), Make Room for Daddy stood above the rest and would remain popular and acclaimed for its entire run, winning numerous awards, including best new show for the 1952-53 season and even surviving a number of transformations and character changes.
Make Room for Daddy’s original cast included Jean Hagen who played Margaret Williams, Danny’s wife, and Rusty Hamer who played the Williams’ son, Rusty, a child with impeccable comedic timing.  The story goes that Thomas was forced to hire Hagen to play his wife but that he never warmed to her, to put it mildly, often complaining about her attitude and what he considered was her slovenly appearance.  Jean Hagen left Make Room for Daddy after the show’s third season stating that it was to pursue her career in movies, but many speculated it was due to near-constant conflicts with Thomas.  At the start of the show’s fourth season, it was explained Margaret had died suddenly.
with Jean Hagen

with Jean Hagen

Another series regular for the first five seasons was Sherry Jackson who was eleven years old in 1953 and grew into her teenage years depicting Danny’s daughter, Terry on the show.  For the fourth season, Danny played a widower, and a succession of guest-stars appeared as potential replacement wives. In the 1956 season finale, Danny proposed to guest-star Marjorie Lord who played Kathy, who would join the cast for the show’s remaining seven seasons, along with child star Angela Cartwright (as Linda).  The character of Linda, Kathy’s young daughter from her first marriage, was adopted by Danny.  Make Room for Daddy‘s ratings dramatically increased in 1957, quelling Thomas’ worries that the audience would never buy into Williams married to anyone other than Margaret.
with Marjorie Lord

with Marjorie Lord

To start the show’s 1957 season the Williams clan also moved to a new network, to CBS from ABC, taking over the spot left open by mega-hit, I Love Lucy.  Make Room for Daddy remained a top-ten show for the rest of its run, which is impressive.

Cartwright, Hamer, Lord, Thomas

Cartwright, Hamer, Lord, Thomas

It’s worth noting that the success of Make Room for Daddy depended greatly on the talent and popularity of the children in the show, who had central roles.  At the time American families were in the throes of the post-war baby boom, which meant that children had influence on what shows were watched in many households across the country.  Because of this, shows that featured or starred children were the rave.  Another popular show at the time was Leave it to Beaver, where (obviously) a child was front and center in all story lines.  But Make Room for Daddy was highly influential in how children were used as part of the show’s theme each week.  While the children always remained children, as far as their viewpoints and concerns, as opposed to acting like adults, I mean, they (especially Rusty) were often given hefty parts of the show to carry and most of those times they were complicated situations.  I must say that while Danny Thomas, Jean Hagen and Marjorie Lord are all great to watch on Make Room for Daddy, it’s all the situations involving the kids that makes the show memorable.  No disrespect to other child stars and characters of the time, but Rusty Hamer in particular could and did spar (verbally) with one of the country’s most popular comedians and matched him line for line.
Rusty Hamer as Rusty Williams

Rusty Hamer as Rusty Williams

Angela Cartwright as Linda Williams

Angela Cartwright as Linda Williams

Here’s an episode from the show’s third season titled, “Little League” in which Danny agrees to provide a lot for a little league baseball team as long as he can be a coach and Rusty gets one of the players.  Danny resorts to blackmail of sorts because poor Rusty is not good at the game.  You’ll note Jean Hagen plays Margaret in that episode.  From a later season, Here’s a wonderful scene that takes place between the two children, Rusty and Linda, during which Rusty is looking for a job.  And, finally, here’s an episode of the show from 1958, then titled The Danny Thomas Show, “Jack Benny Takes Danny’s Job,” which features Marjorie Lord as Kathy, Danny’s wife.  Also, as Mr. Benny makes an appearance in this episode, it’s worth noting that just as I Love Lucy and other popular shows did, Danny Thomas’ show frequently featured other popular stars of the time in guest spots.  Since Danny Williams was an entertainer, it wasn’t far-fetched he’d know other celebrities.

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Legacy

I say this often on this blog – they just don’t make shows like that anymore.  Lucky for us, we can still watch shows like Make Room for Daddy on Me-TV every week, so the legacy of television’s yesteryear lives on.  And in the case of Make Room for Daddy, that legacy is doubly impressive.  Not only should this show be remembered on its own merits – the talent of its cast – but it also has the distinction of being the first show to spawn a successful sitcom spin-off .  And what a spin-off it was – a show created for an up-and-coming comic from North Carolina named Andy Griffith.
The Williams meet Sheriff Taylor

The Williams meet Sheriff Taylor

I was going to describe how Danny Williams met Sheriff Andy Taylor in a town called Mayberry, but why don’t you see for yourself – on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, aptly titled “Danny Meets Andy Griffith,” which aired on February 15, 1960 one of television’s most beloved shows and characters was born.

The Producers

After The Danny Thomas Show voluntarily went off the air in 1964, Thomas continued to work on television – both in front and behind the camera – until his death in 1991 at the age of 79.  Among many projects he worked on and shows he appeared in during all those years, he’d attempted a variety show, but it was short-lived and a reprise of the Make Room for Daddy premise, Make Room for Granddaddy in 1970.  That show lasted only one season, but it’s telling that the cast of the original show was on board to reprise their roles.  Telling, in that there must have been genuine affection between them, something not always commonplace in the annals of show business.

Danny Thomas would go on to make many more contributions to television as a producer.  While starring on his own show, Thomas established Thomas-Leonard Productions, a partnership with television pioneer producer and director, Sheldon Leonard.  Leonard is recognizable to many classic television fans for often playing tough guy characters on many classic shows.  Thomas-Leonard Productions was based on the Desilu lot and was responsible for many highlights in classic television aside from The Andy Griffith Show.  You may have heard of another hit the company produced, The Dick Van Dyke Show.
leonard
I’ll interject with an interesting bit of trivia here – it was Danny Thomas who was responsible for suggesting a young actress named Mary Tyler Moore to The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s creator, Carl Reiner.  It turns out that while Reiner was expressing concern over not finding a suitable Laura Petrie for his show, Thomas remembered a young actress who’d auditioned for his own show but that he hadn’t hired.  Reiner found the girl and…the rest is television history as that girl would not only hit it big on the Van Dyke show, but she’d go on to become a television pioneer in her own right with The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  By the way, both The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show are part of  Me-TV‘s summer of classic TV line-up.
A Danny Thomas discovery…
mtm

The Man

As you can see, I’m easily side-tracked.  To continue – in 1965 Sheldon Leonard left the partnership with Danny Thomas to develop other prospects, but Thomas continued to influence television on his own, producing several hit shows, under the banner of Danny Thomas Productions.  It was perhaps his personal accomplishments for which Thomas would be most remembered, however.  By that I mean his style and talent as an entertainer, which included off-camera stand-up routines he performed for his in-studio audience just prior to filming each episode of Make Room for Daddy, which would be imitated on other programs and institutionalized as the now commonplace “warm-up.”  Then there’s the important work he did in establishing St. Luke’s Children’s Research Hospital, which continues to help children with cancer and their families.
with daughter, Marlo

with daughter, Marlo, star of 1960s show, “That Girl,” which is also on Me-TV

As has been the case with many of the popular television shows of yesteryear, Make Room for Daddy has enjoyed a life in syndication for decades, but had been off the air in most areas for quite some time when Me-TV, “Memorable Entertainment Television” picked up the reigns in 2012 and placed the show on its schedule for millions to enjoy.  That’s a great thing because…have I mentioned they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore?
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Sheldon Leonard referred to Danny Thomas as “brilliant.”  As a fan, I just know he was a kind man…

“All of us are born for a reason, but all of us don’t discover why. Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.”

…and always funny.  So, if you’re considering making room for something fun this summer, Make Room for Daddy.  It’s time well spent.
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This post is part of Me-TV’s Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Go to the Classic TV Blog Association to view more posts submitted in this blogathon.  You can also go to Me-TV Network to learn more about Me-TV and view its summer line-up of classic TV shows.  
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32 thoughts on “Make Room for Daddy

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I agree with you about Rusty Hamer — he was an excellent comedic actor. I particularly love the episode where he convinces Linda that they can get anything they want. How? Since Danny and Cathy are newly married and want the other’s child to like them, Linda will sucker Danny into getting Rusty what he wants and Rusty will get Cathy to give Linda what she wants. Unless the kids are solid, this plot would fall apart. Love the observation of how one MeTV star like Thomas begat others!

    • Ha! Yes, indeed Thomas begat lots and lots in reference to what’s on the Me-TV schedule. Glad you liked this. I remember the episode you reference well. He was something that kid!

      Aurora

  2. What a great tribute to an underrated show! I’ve never understood why Make Room for Daddy hasn’t been more popular in reruns. (Even METv shows it early, early, early, not prime time) I liked the show when I was a little girl, in suburban middle America, because they had such a glamorous, New York existence. Only one kid in my class lived in an apartment, and no one went into the city often, so Rusty and Linda’s life looked so cool to me. Also, I thought Marjorie Lord was right up there with Donna Reed as a pretty-and-perfect TV mom. Don’t know if you’re aware but there’s a very unsavory rumor about Danny Thomas going around the web, spread by a guy who has a book coming out — or maybe he’s trying to get it published. So happy to see this lovely, positive write up about him.

    • Thanks much! I’ve wondered why it’s shown super early on Sundays as well. Of all the traditional, family-oriented shows, this one has a bite to it in comparison. And it’s cosmopolitan, as you describe.

      I’m not aware of the rumor at all and really dislike it when classics are smeared when they can’t defend themselves. True or not, it’s someone out to make a buck.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Aurora

  3. Geez, Louise, Aurora — how many blogs do you have? And why am I just now finding out about this one?!?!? Loved your post, although I must admit that I have never seen an episode of Make Room for Daddy. (I used to think it was called Make Room for Danny, though. LOL) I will make it my business to check it out now!

    • Stop exaggerating! LOL. I only have three blogs. But this one and the third one suffer a bit because of ‘Once Upon a Screen,’ I’m afraid. Although I love my classic TV so must make it a point to babble about these classic shows more.

      Both Danny and Daddy appreciate your comments, as I do! ;-) I think you’d like this show a lot. Still feels fresh in many regards.

      And thanks for stopping in for a visit.

      Aurora

  4. Very well written and informative post! It’s interesting how many connections Danny Thomas has to other classic TV shows. I like Make Room for Daddy because it has a less saccharine tone than other family comedies of the same era.

    • Amy – nicely stated. This show IS less saccharine than many of the ones we look back to as family-oriented shows. In comparison, it has an edge.

      Thanks much!

      Aurora

  5. It’s been many years since I enjoyed “Make Room for Daddy” and I really appreciated your article and the many links. I too have great admiration for Danny Thomas and his accomplishments and it’s wonderful that Me-TV, and you, have put him back on top.

  6. You know, I’ve never seen an episode of this show as far as I can recall, and I don’t believe our Me-TV affiliate in Dallas carries it – they have local programming in the overnight and early morning hours. (Well, there’s always Antenna.) I always thought Danny Thomas a very impressive man, as well as a very good actor. Thanks for spending some time on this, and for making me want to check it out!

  7. Aurora, not only was this a marvelous post on MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, but the biographical details of Danny Thomas’ life were fascinating, too. I love the story about the church offering. Last May, I had the privelege to interview Angela Cartwright and she had nothing but wonderful things to say about Danny Thomas and her “TV family.” That was one of the reasons she signed up to appear in the later revival series MAKE ROOM FOR GRANDADDY. That was an interesting factoid to learn about Mary Tyler Moore. Heck, your post is shockful of interesting stuff!

    • Thanks, Rick.

      How sweet that you got to interview Ms. Cartwright! And thanks for sharing she was fond of Danny Thomas because I JUST KNEW IT! I visited St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital several years ago in Memphis and I left with a heart full of love. It permeates the place. What he started there, and of course what so many others have worked for to continue his legacy, could only have been done by someone with a huge heart.

      Aurora

  8. Great post Aurora! I only saw this show a few times, but enjoyed the clips for which you provided links. You say that you get easily side-tracked, but I like your side-tracking. Thanks for the excellent background info on the career and influence of Danny Thomas, especially regarding the spinoff of the Andy Griffith show and his recommendation of MTM to the Dick Van Dyke show.

    • Yes! Both children on the show are great. I love the clip I included where they’re looking for a job – Linda has the last line in it and you can see she wants to crack up. Really great!

      Thanks much for your comments.

      Aurora

  9. I’m a Jean Hagen fan, and if she wanted to be slovenly on my sitcom I would have had no problem with that.

    Having said that, there’s a reason why The Danny Thomas Show has stood the test of time over the years: it’s falling-down funny stuff, even if I can’t share the Rusty Hamer love among the commenters. Thomas was one of my favorite TV dads because he was a little more realistic than most of them – he always seemed like he’d introduce one of his kids to the back of his hand if they got to be too much like wisenheimers.

    Sad that this show isn’t well represented on DVD. It truly is one of the all-time great sitcoms.

  10. Though Rusty Hamer was my favorite of Danny’s TV kids, I also liked Sherry Jackson as Terry, his older daughter, who was part of the show until 1958. I also liked Jean Hagen but I imagine Danny had a more glamorous wife in mind and Marjorie Lord was definitely that.

    I remember a comedy short by Albert Brooks (it might’ve aired on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s) about a school for famous comedians. It featured a class in which the ‘Danny Thomas spit-take’ was being taught – and practiced. Very, very funny. I’m sure it must be on YouTube.

    • If Dany indeed didn’t like Hagen only because she wasn’t glamorous enough, then that’s not right. But if there were professional “differences” then that’s another matter. Wish I’d been there to confirm or deny.

      Thanks for sharing that tidbit. I’ll have to look that up! Also, thanks for stopping in.

      Aurora

  11. Fantastic. I’ve only watched a few episodes, and they were after Danny married Marjorie Lord, who is wonderful. I love the “I Love Lucy” episode when Danny and family rent Lucy and Desi’s Connecticut home. The ensuing courtroom battle is a stitch. This is one of those shows I’d like to start with from the very beginning and watch all the way through. Thanks for the great overview!!

    • Wow! I’d forgotten all about that Danny Thomas / Lucy cross-ver! Must watch that soon. :-D I’ve never watched The Danny Thomas Show in sequence myself. Great idea and wish it was available on DVD.

      Thanks much for stopping in!

      Aurora

  12. Nice article but you left out any mention of Sherry Jackson who played older daughter Terry during the first five seasons. I think season 5 and part of 6 had all three children in the show.

    • You’re absolutely right. It wasn’t that I forgot, just didn’t want to make this too long. But I thought immediately afterwards I shouldn’t have excluded her. I appreciate your passion and thanks for stopping in.

      Aurora

  13. I have just seen the very early shows with Kathy and Linda and another little girl played Linda for the shows before the marriage. Who was she?

  14. That was from season 4 before the marriage. I don’t even think that Kathy’s daughter was even named Linda in this episode, I think it was Patty or something like that. It was another actress too, not Angela Cartwright but someone a bit older.

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