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”.
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 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.