"This is my husband from my first marriage," said Rose Marie Thomas as she introduced Danny Thomas, her first--and only--husband of 50 years.
As a testament to the longevity of their relationship the Thomases celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with 1,800 of their close, personal friends at the Century Plaza Hotel on Saturday night.
They threw quite a bash, a party that lasted five hours and featured eight acts on the entertainment lineup. But the evening was not without its altruistic side; this was a $250-per-person benefit for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Memphis, Tenn., hospital Danny Thomas helped found and continues to support.
The Thomases came into the press room humming their own entrance music. They were preceded by the McGuire Sisters, the singing trio who dressed alike and had 5-inch cylindrical cones of hair and rhinestones piled on top of their heads. Later on there were members of the Thomas clan, including children Terre and Tony, their grandchildren and son-in-law Phil ("It's more than a show, it's a relationship") Donahue, who was the evening's emcee (Marlo couldn't escape a play she's doing in New York).
"We're working on the next 50 years," said Rose Marie, dressed in a peach sequined gown with her hair a lively shade of auburn. Danny wore a large gold St. Jude's medallion around his neck and chomped on an oversized cigar.
How the two stayed together so long became the most-asked question. Danny chalked it up to humor, commitment and the fact that "we didn't know we were allowed to leave."
The decision to go public with their anniversary celebration was in part to help St. Jude. "We would have done a private ceremony," added Rose Marie, "but we would have had to rent out the Forum."
As it was, the hotel's ballroom was packed (it was the largest crowd ever there, as Donahue reminded the audience several times). Four video screens facilitated viewing for those at less than desirable tables. The evening brought in more than $1 million for the hospital, which operates on a budget of $62 million a year.
Speeches were kept short and crossed over from shtick about the foibles of marriage to pitches for St. Jude's. President Reagan was there via videotape, wishing the couple well and lauding Danny Thomas for his many accomplishments. "Danny, I can't help think, if things had worked out like that for me, I never would have left show business."
Man and woman of the year awards went to Charles (Buddy) Rogers and Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, who were cited for their philanthropic endeavors.
In the capacity crowd were Mayor Tom Bradley and wife, Ethel; Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna; Susan Sullivan and Alex Trebek; Sybil Brand; Dolores Hope; Sherry Lansing; Carl and Estelle Reiner; Richard and Lili Zanuck, and Paul and Mickey Ziffren.
The performers included three of the four Golden Girls (Bea Arthur, Betty White and Estelle Getty), Peggy Lee, Sid Caesar, Kay Starr, Tony Martin, Bob Newhart, the McGuire Sisters, Jan Murray and Nell Carter. Those who didn't dash out of the ballroom before the ending were treated to Danny and Rose Marie crooning love songs to each other. The Young Americans, a group of fresh-faced youngsters, came on stage to sing "The Anniversary Waltz" while the Thomases danced and guests lit the little candle in what remained of dessert, a heart-shaped cake with pink frosting and a little banner across it that read "Happy Anniversary."
"Ah," said Danny Thomas, surveying the scene from the stage. "Isn't that pretty?"