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Postcard Time Machine: Remembering More Stars of TV and Film

by Bonnie Wilpon (09/24/13).

Postcards of famous people have always been popular. In addition to historical figures, authors and kings and queens, postcards celebrate our favorite entertainers as well.

These performers gave back to the world, broke barriers and created much of the foundation of today’s entertainment. Take a walk into the past through these postcards, and remember how much we enjoyed these stars.

Danny Thomas

Advertising card from 1976 for the Celebrity Room at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Reno, NV. Danny Thomas heads the bill, with singer and dancer Lola Alana sharing the stage. This postcard can occasionally be found online in the $6 to $8 range.

Our favorite “Make Room for Daddy” star was born Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz on January 6, 1912, on a horse farm in Deerfield, Mi., one of nine children born to Lebanese immigrants.

Danny started out as a singer and then performed as an emcee and comedian in clubs, launching his radio career in 1932. When he moved to Chicago, he didn’t want his family and friends to know that he’d gone back to the higher-paying club gigs. So he became known as Danny Thomas, combining the names of two of his brothers.

His early characters included Amos, the ne’er-do-well brother-in-law in radio’s “The Bickersons” and Jerry Dingle, the mailman on “The Baby Snooks Show.” Danny starred in the 1952 movie “The Jazz Singer.”

“Make Room for Daddy,” also known as “The Danny Thomas Show,” produced by Desilu, was popular for its 13-year run from 1953 to 1965. Rusty Hamer played son Rusty, and Angela Cartwright played daughter Linda. The daddy-daughter chemistry between Danny and Linda made this show the hit that it was.

In addition to performing, Danny was a TV co-producer and often appeared in his shows’ cameos, such as the “Dick Van Dyke Show” (who can forget Kolak, the alien from the planet Twilo), “Andy Griffith Show,” “Mod Squad,” and “The Real McCoys.” He was responsible for Mary Tyler Moore getting the role of Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” launching her stardom.

At the beginning of his career, when getting a break in showbiz was a long shot, Danny vowed that if he became successful, he would open a shrine dedicated to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. And he made good on his promise, founding the St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis in 1962—a hospital where no child would be turned away. St. Jude is a prime research and treatment center for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. President Ronald Reagan bestowed a Congressional Medal of Honor upon Danny for his work with the hospital.

Danny married Rose Marie Mantell, a radio singer, in 1936 and their three children followed in their show business footsteps. Marlo found success as TV’s “That Girl” and later married television talk show host Phil Donahue, while Tony is a TV producer and Terre is a singer-songwriter.

Danny was a 32nd-degree Mason, as well as a Noble in Al Malaikah Shrine. Always a devout Maronite Catholic, Danny was named a Knight Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre by Pope Paul VI.

One of the original owners of the Miami Dolphins football team and an avid golfer, Danny made his mark on sports as well, with two PGA Tour tournaments bearing his name. His autobiography, “Make Room for Danny,” was published in 1990.

In 1991, at the age of 79, Danny died of a heart attack at home in Beverly Hills and is interred on the grounds of St. Jude Hospital. In 2012, the U.S. Postal Service issued a first-class stamp honoring Danny Thomas as both an entertainer and a humanitarian.

Check out this YouTube link for a great sketch between Danny Thomas and Jack Benny.


Jack Benny and Mary Livingston

The Beverly Hills home of Jack Benny and Mary Livingston. Photo by John Hughes. This linen postcard is a less common view because of the inset portrait of Mary. It can be found online in the $10 range and for a bit less at shows

The world became a brighter place in 1894 when Benjamin Kubelsky (aka: Jack Benny) was born in Chicago. One of the most popular entertainers of the 1900s, Jack’s character was a miser, forever age 39, who played his screeching violin badly. In real life, he was an excellent violinist—a career his parents dreamed he would pursue.

Known for his comic timing, Jack used pauses and single-word expressions such as his famous exasperated “Well!,” to flesh out his unforgettable persona and get big laughs. He starred in vaudeville, radio, movies and television and was even caricaturized in cartoons.

At 14 years old, Jack was playing the violin in dance bands. He was a poor student who was expelled from high school and didn’t do much better in business school or working for his father’s haberdashery. At 17, he was playing vaudeville for $7.50 per week. He joined the U.S. Navy during World War I and entertained the troops with his violin and comedy routines.

In 1922 Jack went to Zeppo Marx’s family Passover Seder in Vancouver, Canada, where he met Zeppos’ cousin, Sadye, who was working in the hosiery section of the May Company. They married in 1927, and she turned out to be a natural comedienne. Sadye changed her name to Mary Livingston and collaborated with Jack throughout his career. They adopted a daughter, Joan, who later edited and published Jack’s autobiography. This YouTube video shows Jack and Mary in a sketch about their courtship.

In 1932, Jack Benny became a hit with his weekly radio show, “The Jack Benny Program.” His popular TV show of the same name ran from 1950 to 1965, evolving from a variety show to a sitcom. He was known for attracting guests who rarely appeared on television such as Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Walt Disney.

Jack’s character was everything he was not—vain, petty, self-aggrandizing and a skinflint. His co-stars got laughs at the expense of his flaws. In spite of her lifelong bout with stage fright, Mary played his assertive female friend, Dorothy. Tenor Dennis Day always sang, the rotund Don Wilson was teased about his size and Eddie Anderson played Jack’s valet-chauffeur. “Oh, Rochester,” Jack would call—and Rochester would answer, “Yes, Boss?,” in his gravelly voice.

The show allowed Eddie to break racial barriers as a regular cast member who was treated more like a partner than hired help. Jack paid particular attention to racial equality, and during World War II often praised the diversity of U.S. troops. He refused to allow racial-stereotype jokes on his show and went out of his way to give guest-starring roles to African-American performers like Louis Armstrong and The Ink Spots.

Jack was noted for his long pauses and his defining joke: In a famous exchange, a mugger asks, “Your money or your life?” After a very long pause, Jack’s notoriously cheap character responds, “I’m thinking it over.”

His longtime friends included the Marx brothers, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Judy Garland, Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby, Gracie Allen and his closest friend, George Burns.

After he officially retired, Jack did standup comedy and cameo appearances in films and hosted roasts for Ronald Reagan, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball (his last public performance). Jack was roasted, himself, soon before his death from pancreatic cancer in 1974 at the age of 80. In his will, he had arranged to have a single red rose sent to Mary every day after he was gone.

His family donated Jack’s papers and a collection of his television shows to UCLA, and the university honored him by instituting the Jack Benny Award to recognize outstanding people in comedy. His Stradivarius violin was donated to the LA Philharmonic Orchestra.


Katharine Hepburn

This Coral Lee postcard, Personality #130, captures the spirit of this leading lady. Unpretentious and casual, Katharine sits on a studio’s back lot. Look for this card in the $4 to $6 range.

Katharine Houghton Hepburn, born in Hartford, Ct., in 1907, was a leading lady for more than 60 years and was named by the American Film Institute as Hollywood’s Top Female Legend in 1999.

Acting in movies, television and on the stage, Katharine appeared in everything from literary dramas to wacky comedies and won four Academy Awards for Best Actress as well as a Tony Award. Her 1991 autobiography, “Me: Stories of my Life” stayed at the top of bestseller lists for more than a year.

Katharine was raised, one of six children, by affluent parents who supported women’s suffrage and social change. A tomboy nicknamed Jimmy, she liked her hair cut short. When she was 14 years old, she was devastated when she discovered her older brother’s body; Tom had hanged himself with a sheet. This debilitated her and she was home-schooled after that. For many years she adopted Tom’s birthday as her own and remained close to her family.

While attending her mother’s alma mater, Bryn Mawr College—in spite of being suspended for smoking in her room—she fell in love with acting. After graduating, she got her start in stock theater. She had several movie successes, then starred in a series of failures and was labeled “box office poison” in 1938. Her personal wealth allowed her to stage her own comeback, buying the film rights to “The Philadelphia Story” under the condition that she would be its star. The film was the biggest hit of 1940, breaking all records at Radio City Music Hall.

Her haughty attitude didn’t help her popularity—she was fiercely private and often snappy with reporters, refusing to give interviews and autographs. She wasn’t interested in the celebrity social scene and avoided public appearances. Katharine once wrestled a camera out of a photographer’s hand when he snapped her picture without asking first. She auditioned to play Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” but lost the part when producer David O. Selznick decided she had no sex appeal. “I can’t see Rhett Butler chasing you for 12 years,” he told her. In spite of all this, she enjoyed her fame, and her feelings thawed as she aged.

Katharine married Ludlow Smith, a socialite-businessman from Philadelphia, when she was 21. But acting was her first priority, and they divorced in 1934, remaining friends. She vowed never to remarry or to have children, since either would take a back seat to her career. She dated millionaire Howard Hughes for a time. Her 26-year affair with the married Spencer Tracy kept secret for many years. When his health went downhill in the 1960s, she stopped performing to spend the last five years of his life caring for him in his home, and she was with him when he died.

Over the years, Katharine performed with John Barrymore, Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Charles Boyer, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Sidney Poitier and Cary Grant, among others.

Famous for her unconventional lifestyle and non-conformist behavior, Katharine would have nothing to do with Hollywood’s publicity machine. She was a very outspoken athletic woman who used no makeup and wore slacks before they were accepted as women’s fashion. She was the epitome of the “modern woman” in the 1900s, and her style greatly influenced American culture. “If you obey all the rules,” she said, “you miss all the fun.”

In later life, Katharine tackled more literary roles and performed in stage productions of Shakespeare. She became the quintessential middle-aged woman in movies such as “African Queen” and “On Golden Pond.” In 1967, she starred in her last movie with Spencer Tracy, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and her niece played her daughter. Spencer died 17 days after filming the last scene of their ninth film together.

She quickly returned to acting to work through her grief. Katharine started performing in TV movies in 1973. By the 1980s, she’d developed essential tremor, giving her a noticeably shaking head, hands and voice. She didn’t work for two years but returned to the screen for “On Golden Pond.” At age 86, Katharine appeared in her final film, “Love Affair.”

Katharine loved playing golf, tennis and swimming, as well as painting. She took ice-cold baths daily, believing they were good for you. As a child, she went to the movies every Saturday night and put on plays with her friends and siblings to raise money for the Navajo people. Politically, she was a strong liberal, supporting birth control and abortion, and was an atheist.

In 1996, Katharine had pneumonia and within a year became frail and showed signs of dementia. In 2003, an aggressive tumor was found in her neck, and she decided to forego treatment. She died later that year, in her childhood home, at the age of 96.


Burl Ives

Generally, postcards of the grandfatherly Burl Ives can be found in the $1-to-$3 range. But 1970s advertising cards, like this one for the Circus Room at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Reno, run in the $7-to-$10 range.

Born in 1909 in Jasper County, IL, Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives was a movie, voiceover, television and stage actor as well as a writer, but he was best known as a balladeer. His life was devoted to collecting and performing folk songs—and if he thought the words or the tune could be improved, he changed them.

One of seven children, he learned British ballads, including some bawdy ones, from his grandmother. While singing in the garden with his mother one day, his uncle heard them. He asked his 4-year-old nephew to sing at a nearby Old Soldiers’ Reunion, and his first public performance of “Barbara Allen” impressed the audience.

Burl planned to be a football coach, but he dropped out of college, feeling the call to his music. Sixty years later, Eastern Illinois State Teachers College named a building after him. He returned to college years later, attending Juilliard in New York City.

During the early 1930s, he traveled the country as a wandering minstrel, doing odd jobs, singing and playing his banjo. Burl settled into folk music during the 1940s, popularizing songs like “Blue Tail Fly (Jimmy Crack Corn),” “I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly,” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and served briefly as a corporal before receiving a medical discharge. In 1945, he married scriptwriter Helen Ehrlich and they adopted a son. They divorced, and in 1970 Burl married Dorothy Koster, who had three children. They alternately lived in their homes in Anacortes, Wa.; Galisteo, NM, and Elbow Cay in the Bahamas.

Burl’s first hit was the 17th-century English song “Lavender Blue,” used in the 1949 movie “So Dear to My Heart” and nominated for an Academy Award. Ultimately he recorded more than 100 albums, published 10 books and dozens of songbooks. His grandfatherly, teddy-bear look became his hallmark.

In 1950, he was blacklisted for Communist ties and his activist liberal-Democrat activities. When he testified before the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, he denied being a member of the Communist Party but named friends with whom he attended union meetings. His statement ended his blacklisting but cost him relationships with many folk singers, who accused him of selling out to save his own career.

Burl’s movie and Broadway career boomed in the 1950s, when he starred in “East of Eden” and “The Big Country,” for which he won an Academy Award. His 1955 Broadway performance as Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” gave him the nickname that stuck for the rest of his life. His “Holly Jolly Christmas” became a holiday standard when it was featured in the 1964 TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

In the late 1970s, I had the pleasure of seeing Burl perform in Tampa, Fl., when I was a volunteer theater usher. Calling us together before he began, Burl taught us to sing a simple round (“All things will perish from under the sky; music alone shall live… never to die.”), which we sang and remembered ever after as a personal gift from this gentle man with the velvet voice.

Burl’s friends included Harry Morgan (Officer Gannon in “Dragnet” and Colonel Potter in “M*A*S*H”). His hobbies included ham radio, working with the Boy Scouts and being a 33rd-degree Mason.

Burl officially retired from show business in 1989 on his 80th birthday but continued to perform at benefits for his favorite causes—Indian reservations, peace, Boy Scouts, the environment, arts and children’s medicine. A longtime pipe and cigar smoker, Burl was diagnosed with oral cancer in 1994 and died in 1995 at the age of 85.


Bonnie Wilpon, the author of “Postcard History of Sarasota and Bradenton, FL,” and “Postcard History of Hollywood, FL.” (published by Arcadia Books), is a Worthologist who specializes in postcards.

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