To get the ball rolling, Thomas used his own celebrity and connections to other stars to bring the mission of St. Jude to the public eye.
“Danny really reached out to a lot of his cohorts in saying, ‘You know, we’ve been so fortunate in the opportunities that were given to us,’ especially those who came from other countries and had different ethnic backgrounds, and he really called on them to help give back to the country that gave them so many opportunities and created livelihoods for them,” says Teri Watson, senior director of radio and entertainment marketing for ALSAC/St. Jude.
At Thomas’ urging, Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley were among the organization’s first celebrity endorsers.
The celeb tradition continues today, spearheaded by Thomas’ daughter Marlo, an award-winning actress in her own right (she starred in and produced the ’60s sitcom “That Girl”), who also has produced TV specials and books whose royalties have benefitted St. Jude.
She is the national outreach director for the hospital and its most recognizable “face,” hosting the hour-long TV special “Fighting For Life.” Airing more than 1,000 times every year in more than 150 markets, the show shares the stories of the children St. Jude serves and urges people to become sustainer givers. Marlo also hosts — along with her siblings Terre and Tony — the annual Runway for Life Celebrity Fashion Show in Hollywood, a star-studded event that raises $1 million a year for the hospital, and she travels to events around the country to promote St. Jude with corporations, other celebrities and private individuals.
Stephanie Sandler, CEO of The Giving Back Fund, a philanthropic resource to the sports and entertainment communities, says Marlo’s connection to St. Jude, as both a celebrity and as Danny Thomas’ daughter, resonates deeply with the public.