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Memories of Danny Thomas's House in Beverly Hills

Smiling through melancholy this morning as I look at THE LINK for the sale of Uncle Danny and Aunt Rosie's home. When I was about 9 or so, we went to Los Angeles on a "last family trip" before my sister Joannah was heading off to college. There's lots I've forgotten in life, but this was entirely memorable.


The priest on Uncle Danny's movie lot, Father Pat, took us on the set of several TV shows to watch them film. Through him we got complete entree to the hottest shows, which I didn't realize at the time, including Star Trek (the They Stole Spock's Brain ep) and the closed set of a new one called MOD SQUAD (a big secret they were sure was going to be a hit). WHAT KITCH! HIt DisneyLand for the first time (took about a decade to stop hearing the theme song from It's a Small Small World in my head every day - not in a good way), did the 13 Mile Drive through Monterey and Carmel (where I first discovered Monterey Jack cheese and lay in the back of the rental station wagon eating it as we drove), went to visit Haight Ashbury at the height of the hippie scene and bought leather cuffs we thought were so cool. Someone clipped my wallet then too - like I had anything in it at age 9. Saw San Simeon and marveled at it's magnificent rooms and tile pools.
We went to visit Uncle Danny at his old house a couple of times on that trip. I remember studying the 3D the model of this house he was going to build, which sat at the base of a sweeping staircase near the front door. After we ate way too much food, which is typical for all ethnic households (Come in, you must be hungry. Eat! Eat!), he drove us that night up to the empty lot on a cliff in Beverly Hills. As we pressed our faces to the diamond pattern of the warm metal Semmerling fence gazing at the glittering view of the rest of the world that lay at the edge all around, he described what he'd put there. And now it's for sale. I haven't had the urge to tell my father something for years since he's been gone, but this morning, I'd like to show him this. 
Some extraordinary things happened when I was young as a result of my dad and Uncle Danny knowing each other as kids - both growing up dirt poor, as first generationers in Toledo Ohio - who joined with many other Arabic Americans down the line to help Danny fulfill his dream of building a shrine to St. Jude, the incredible St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Looking at the slideshow, seeing all the rooms I know so well, really does make me want to cry. I have so many memories there that layer themselves over each photo like ghosts. In the room with the round table I see the Gabor sisters who floated around in pink and turquoise chiffon floor length gowns with impossibly blonde hair piled high, once growling at the 24-year-old-me because I was wearing a gown the same color as ZaZa's. I hear the tinkling of ice cubes in crystal cocktail glasses and see Lalique ash trays filled with stubbed out butts, half with fabulous lipstick imprints. On the couch under the arched walls, I see George Burns holding court with his cigar, making my sister Janelle laugh year after year, even as he approached 100. In one room looking out over the pool there was a lunch buffet I'll never forget. I was spearing sliced tomatoes from a serving plate when I felt someone breathing down on my teenage neck. I turned around and looked up to see Mohammed Ali breaking into a mischievous smile. The front gates opened to a gravel drive with a central fountain around which they set dozens to 10 top tables for an annual night before the LA fundraiser party, at which I was seated with all the greats every year. Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Red Buttons, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, all Danny's pals who always came out to support his cause. They sat and ate, drank, laughed, walked around, comfortable as if they were in their own home.... a testament to how hospitable the Thomases were. Hard not to smile remembering the time when we were waiting for Marlo to come to introduce us to Phil (Donahue), who was THE talk show host at the time. We were not surprised that he was the guy who interested her enough to marry, after enjoying her first 40 years as a modern, liberated single girl. We all just about ran past her and cornered Phil, chatting him up. And I remember, in the old house as well as the new, looking at the magnificent wood carving they had of the last supper, which now lives on the front wall of the Pavilion Chapel on the grounds of the hospital. 
Uncle Danny has been gone a while. He is buried behind the Pavilion in the garden, a fitting place. I would often go spend quiet time sitting there with him, and thank him for the opportunity afforded to me to make my contribution to the enormous good he was doing in the world by creating the hospital. Like many of the sons and daughters of the founders of the hospital, I grew up with it, it's mission embedded in my DNA, and it was the greatest honor of my life to serve, with a deep abiding love for the place and the cause.
Today I am feeling that loss, as well as my Dad's, resurrected along with these of memories and more. I didn't have the happiest time growing up, but the times I spent around all this were wonderful.

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