Sarah Jessica Parker, Ray Romano, Robin Williams, Antonio Banderas — celebs so diverse you might be hard pressed to find a common link.
But add the name Marlo Thomas, and most people would immediately recall that all of these stars and a host of others have been high-profile spokespeople for the nonprofit institution that her famous father founded some 50 years ago — ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The renowned research and treatment center, which cares for children from around the world at no cost to their families, was built on the hopes of a struggling entertainer, and it continues to hitch its awareness- and fundraising wagon to the hottest Hollywood stars of any given decade.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Danny Thomas was trying to make it in “the biz” in the early 1950s. In a now-famous bargain, he vowed to build a shrine to St. Jude Thaddeus if the patron saint of lost causes would guide him in his career.
Within a year, Thomas was earning $500 a week as a comedian, and he was on the fast track to stardom — a USO tour with Marlene Dietrich, radio spots and roles in TV shows such as “Make Room for Daddy.” Finally, Thomas landed “The Danny Thomas Show” and went on to create “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Mod Squad.”
In 1957, he followed through on his promise, founding the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) to raise money to build, operate and maintain St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which opened in Memphis, Tenn., in 1962.
Thomas founded the hospital on four pillars — that it would:
- provide unsurpassed patient care;
- provide unparalleled scientific research;
- be a hospital without walls, taking in children from across the country and around the world, and sharing the knowledge it receives through research with hospitals, medical schools and institutions worldwide; and
- never deny care because of race, religion or a family’s inability to pay.
At a cost of $1.2 million a day, the institution pays for each patient’s medical care, as well as research into the diseases that affect them. It also pays travel expenses for patients and their parents, family lodging while the child is at the hospital, and food and ancillary services such as dental, opthamological and psychological care, to ensure that all the family has to be concerned with is the health of their child.