Sometimes I think about Danny Thomas

Danny Thomas was a Lebanese-American comedian and musician, probably best known to Baby Boomers and every later generation (including mine) for The Danny Thomas Show/Make Room For Daddy, a sit-com loosely based on his home life that ran from 1953 to 1965, making it one of the longest-running half-hour television comedies ever; he’s also the father of actress Marlo Thomas, possibly best known for That Girl, and to people who were between the abes of five and ten any time between 1972 and 1986, she was the primary brain behind Free to Be You & Me, a spoken-word LP (and 1974 telly special) about how it’s OK for kids to reject gender stereotyping, and it’s OK for girls to get dirty and for boys to play with dolls, and all that. Danny Thomas was also a lifelong devout Catholic from Toledo, Ohio, who, when he was still struggling to keep the rent paid playing at whatever clubs would book him, he still made regular offerings to the saints, and cut a deal with St Jude, best known as the patron saint of Lost Causes and Impossible Hope. From that bargaining, he became a household name, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, world-famous for taking in children battling terminal illnesses and not charging families a dime (relying solely on philanthropy, the occasional grant, and regular donors).

Danny Thomas sounds like he was a great guy, eh? That’s cos he was. He was warm and caring and sensitive and his show was one of only a handful of its era that’s still funny (unlike maybe half of Burns & Allen’s sit-com, or Betty White’s short-lived Life With Elizabeth, both of which date poorly).He was a lifelong Democrat, but even Republican President Ronald Reagan gave him a medal for philanthropy, for St. Jude’s.

…but there are still people who dislike Danny Thomas. Maybe some don’t find him funny –that’s fair enough, after all, his sit-com was full of self-deprecating humour, especially directed at his Near Eastern features and ethnicity, and he had a lot of creative control on his show, so he was clearly OK with it, and that might upset some people. Maybe others disliked his political affiliation or his support of his daughter’s feminism.

One day maybe a year ago, I found a blog post for some fluffy entertainment rag, and there was a very short article about an interview Marlo Thomas gave on some telly show, and in that interview, her father came up. Naturally, some of the comments were about Danny Thomas. One of those comments really stood out at me: This was a comment from a woman who seemed to have an axe to grind against Danny Thomas.

The woman explained that when she was a teenager in the late Sixties, a family member of hers owned the house next door to the Thomases, in California. One day when she was visiting during the summer, she saw Danny in his own back yard from over the little wall that divided the properties. She asked him for his autograph. He, allegedly, suddenly looked very annoyed and went inside. This woman told her story under the guise of “exposing Danny Thomas’ true nature”.

Mmhm.

The first person to respond to her said “This does not surprise me in the slightest. Democrats have always been the most hateful of people”

I see.

I think one other person said something vaguely anti-Catholic, (I’m actually surprised at the lack of racist comments), but most of the comments responding to the woman’s “exposé” explained to her that she simply had no grounds for making such a harsh judgement of his character, much less holding such a ridiculous grudge for over forty years, because of reasons.

While I know that that this doesn’t make a perfect allegory in light of recent events, I can still use it to explain an important Cyrenaic truth: While we’re never wrong about what it is that we experience, we can never have complete knowledge about all elements that made that experience. This woman only knew that a beloved celebrity turned away her request with no explanation –she didn’t know anything about his day or week or any potential stresses that Thomas himself may have been experiencing. She apparently was unaware (for over forty years) that she breached general Los Angeles county etiquette, which says “when you live next door to a celebrity, do not bother them with your fandom”. She had no idea why no-one taught her this. She had no idea if maybe Thomas and this neighbour were feuding over something that made Thomas less likely to want to honour her request. All she knew was a cross look and a silent rejection of what she knew to be an innocent request –but for all Danny Thomas knew, this was a breach of etiquette from an unmannered and immature adolescent.

It’s easy to judge the actions and words of others, and this becomes an easier habit when we’re convinced that the evidence is in our favour, but what do we really know about what this person or another means with their words or actions? Do we really know their motivations, their characters, their hearts? Or do we simply know what we’ve seen, read, witnessed, and the ways we can fit it into our own personal catalogues of information we use to make snap judgments –a human trait which, itself, is not a bad thing, but can simply be used unwisely.

Maybe Galina Krasskova really is planning to become some polytheist Rainbow Family matriarch. Or maybe people are reading a line or two that they don’t like and jumping to a worst possible scenario that isn’t even, but which they believe to be perfectly rational.

All I know is that when I challenge these people to back up their allegations, they tend to give me nothing –at best, I might get something that, when I read it, sure doesn’t seem to say what they believe it does.

I also know that if a struggling Danny Thomas, from the same part of the world as myself, could still find a few pennies for his Saints to have a candle (remember, this was pennies in the 1930s and ’40s before American money was worthless green paper) while he was trying to pay the rent and feed three kids, I can certainly tear off the corner of some toast with peanut butter and honey and scoop a teaspoon of water from the top of my glass for my own gods, if only because being devout and building a relationship with one’s holy powers means actions as well as beliefs.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

2 thoughts on “Sometimes I think about Danny Thomas

  1. Beautifully written.

    I loved Danny Thomas when I was a kid! I don’t remember much about his series because I was very little, only that it was one of my favorites. 🙂

    I am deeply saddened — no wounded — regarding the vitriol poured over Galina Krasskova online. I originally became a Pagan, in part, in 1984 because I thought we were better than that, that we would not fall into the trap, as other religions have, of constantly fighting with each other. I learned otherwise in the late 1980’s when I myself became verbally attacked for my own non-party-line Neopagan beliefs (for example, I don’t believe in modern Western astrology nor the typical Neopagan notion of reincarnation). And what some Neopagans said to me regarding my beliefs was rude and hypocritical but nowhere as bad as what I have read in the last couple of weeks here online directed towards Ms. Krasskova.

    Personally, I do not agree with some of the things Ms. Krasskova has written online and in her books. I don’t think I agree with everything any religious writer has ever written.

    But to those who have publicly criticized Ms. Krasskova recently online I challenge you: if you don’t like what she says, then write your own posts, teach you own classes, write your own books on the same subjects and tell us how you think worship should be done in a way that would actually make us want to follow your suggestions. For example, if you don’t like that Ms. Krasskova is teaching a class on money and charging for it, teach your own class and offer it for free. (And make sure it is at least as good as the one she is teaching.)

    Because when you post rhetoric that is filled with anger, abuse, foul language, poor grammar, and sloppy writing while hiding behind your computer all it does is make you sound lazy, thoughtless, cruel, ignorant, immature, and unintelligent. Shame on you. Maybe you’re having fun. Fair enough. But is having fun worth hurting and losing the respect of others? Really?

    • But to those who have publicly criticized Ms. Krasskova recently online I
      challenge you: if you don’t like what she says, then write your own
      posts, teach your own classes, write your own books on the same subjects
      and tell us how you think worship should be done in a way that would
      actually make us want to follow your suggestions. For example, if you
      don’t like that Ms. Krasskova is teaching a class on money and charging
      for it, teach your own class and offer it for free. (And make sure it is
      at least as good as the one she is teaching.)

      My guess is that actually doing what you advise takes far more work than it does to jump to the wildest possible conclusions based on what appears to be doing little more reading than a quick skim for a few words and phrases that might send up certain flags out of context. Granted, I too am only forming ideas from my own catalogue of knowledge based on what I’ve observed, that’s all we ever do

      And what really pains me about all this, is that I generally agree with a lot of the kids on Tumblr about social justice, *but* I also have the experience, knowledge, and wisdom to see where they really don’t understand a lot of the things they’re talking about, much less the odd little paradoxes that are created by social justice. Paradoxes like how, say, it is generally true that many women have sexist ideas because of the society being inherently sexist, *but* it’s also sexist for a man [which, for these purposes, “a man” is defined as “anyone who is generally assumed to be one until they state otherwise”] to tell a woman how to feel about sexism, especially about how sexism directly affects her, because that would be placing a man’s ideas over a woman’s experiences –this therefore creates a situation where men have to be very careful in how they try to teach others about sexism, but because of the very individual nature of experiences, the longer he tries to teach others, the more likely he is to reach a point where he’s best off not teaching others about sexism at all, simply because he is a man; furthermore, the more women attempt to teach other people about sexism, the more likely there is to arise highly incompatible information about it distributed, because the logic goes that without the institutionalised power a man is afforded, it becomes very hard to define a woman treating others poorly based on their sex as “sexist”, even though the exact same behaviour given the context of a male enactor is very easily defined as such, so this becomes simply “two women having an argument” and all we ultimately learn about sexism is that it’s a topic for women to teach and discuss amongst themselves, I guess?

      Now I’m sure you see why I just can’t get along with many self-identified “activists” on Tumblr is pretty much the same reason I can’t get along with many self-identified “pagans”: They refuse to define things in a manner that makes them easier to understand, and what definitions are often given end up undefining these ideas. I whole-heartedly agree with the basics of social justice activism that have been around for years –people should not be discriminated against, or treated as second- or third-class citizens because of X [sex, gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, etc…]– and I believe that people can do and say things that fall into that definition of poor treatment of others due to X without even realising it, because that’s just how they’ve always done it and seen others do it. But when we get to nit-picking things to the point of being simply unable to define them anymore, then something has gone terribly wrong. When you can’t call out a woman because she’s made a crass, sexualised comment against another woman because of something the latter wrote, but when a man wrote the same thing and she only disagreed, and we can’t call that out as being “sexist” because it’s somehow impossible for women to be sexist, or because the person who noticed it was a man, then there’s something wrong with the MO of the activism.

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