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Remembering Danny Thomas

We honor the beloved comedian and ”Andy Griffith Show” producer

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He was born Muzyad Yakhoob, and in his 20s he nursed a fragile career as a comedian using the only slightly sleeker label Amos Jacobs. But Danny Thomas, who died at 79 on Feb. 6, knew how to make his own luck, and after one final name change, the Cyranosed son of Lebanese immigrants recrafted his career to become one of television’s most beloved and befuddled fathers, nightclub entertainer Danny Williams on the comedy series Make Room for Daddy (1953-64). At the height of its run, Daddy — retitled The Danny Thomas Show — was second only to Gunsmoke in popularity, and Thomas used it to launch another career behind the scenes as a producer. With his name on The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Mod Squad, he made a fortune, became a philanthropist, and gained a reputation as one of TV’s shrewdest and most self-effacing moguls. But it was as a comedian — warm, jokey, sometimes hokey — that millions of first-generation sitcom viewers will remember him. Just weeks before his death, he was on Late Night With David Letterman, passing on the secret of his impeccably executed ”spit take” to an amused Macaulay Culkin. Sophisticated? Nah. But at 10 or 80, that’s comedy.