As a little girl, Marlo Thomas remembers watching her father, Danny Thomas, while he worked. He’d spend hours at home listening to live recordings of his nightclub performances looking for ways to perfect his routine. When he starred on Make Room for Daddy (later retitled The Danny Thomas Show), Marlo often snuck into the meetings he’d have with his writers at their house. “Even as a small child,” Marlo has said, “I deeply admired his work ethic and his love of that work. I learned so much from that.”
The lessons that Marlo received from her father go far beyond the art of entertaining an audience. He showed her how to find success in life on her own terms, and through his example demonstrated why it’s essential to express gratitude. “I wear my father’s ring all the time,” Marlo, 81, confided to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “When times get tough, I touch it and think, ‘Come on, Dad, let’s do this together.’”
Growing up in Beverly Hills, CA the eldest of three children of Danny and his wife, Rose Marie, a former radio singer, Marlo became used to seeing her father’s famous friends like Frank Sinatra in their living room. “My dad was a nightclub performer, so Sinatra, George Burns, Nat King Cole, and Bob Hope, those were all guys he worked alongside,” she recalled.
In such surroundings, it’s little wonder she dreamed of a career in showbiz, too. “Dad was the one I focused on and wanted to be like throughout my childhood,” she previously admitted. But before she found success as an actress and producer on That Girl in 1966, Danny shared the secret to staying true to oneself with Marlo.
“My dad told me that I should wear blinders in life and not look at any of the other horses and just run my own race,” she has said. “And so that’s kind of what I’ve done. It’s knowing that your destiny is something that only you can figure out. If you try to change that to become like someone else, you won’t get to where you’re supposed to be.”
Marlo’s road has taken her from her early achievements on TV to her inspiring series of children’s books and recordings — starting with 1972’s Free to Be… You and Me — to movies, more television, and the Broadway stage. “I’m currently looking for a new play and I’m getting close,” the Golden Globe, Grammy, and four-time Emmy winner has said. “To me, my joy is always to do my work as an actor.”
Marlo also continues to promote the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which her father founded in 1962 to find cures and provide free treatment to children with cancer. Marlo has called her father’s idea of “putting the science and the medical center under one roof” far ahead of its time. “Every child at St. Jude’s has a scientist and a doctor working on their case. That’s the brilliance of it,” she proudly shared.
Since its inception, St. Jude has helped to dramatically increase the survival rate for the most common forms of childhood cancers from less than 20 percent to more than 80 percent today. “I feel my father’s presence a lot when I go to St. Jude,” Marlo, who spoke with Closer at The St. Jude Thanks and Giving Pop-Up, which raised funds for the center, said.
Giving back to others who are less fortunate is another lesson Marlo learned from Danny. “My father used to say there are two kinds of people in the world, the givers and the takers,” she said in a previous interview with The Huffington Post. “The takers sometimes eat better, but the givers always sleep better!” There’s no question that Danny would be proud that his daughter is carrying on his legacy of love.
For more on Marlo Thomas, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!