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Although 15 years would pass until it earned its official name, the very first Shower of Stars that helped launch a series of similar events in 1970 took place in 1955 at Crump Stadium in Memphis, Tenn.
Memphis had been selected as the location for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital when Danny Thomas fulfilled his vow to build a shrine to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, if he could find his way in life.
Danny, who would go on to be one of the top television stars of the 1950s with his show Make Room for Daddy, thought the time was ripe for Memphis to show its support. He began to organize an event featuring some of his friends in Hollywood. Dinah Shore, the Skylarks and pianist Carmen Cavallaro offered their talents to help draw a crowd. Everything seemed to be on track for a successful evening. Everything, that is, except the weather.
Rain had been predicted for the day of the show. Since the event was taking place in an open-air stadium, disaster seemed inevitable for Danny. By 3 p.m., the Memphis sky was churning with black clouds blocking the sun. Streetlights all over the city began to flicker on. Danny checked with local weather experts who assured him rain would begin falling at any moment. Years later, Danny recalled what happened as he stood in the stadium while workmen hung bunting around the stage.
“I kept looking up at the clouds and I asked, ‘Why? What am I doing that’s wrong? Is it wrong for me to be here? Is this not the place to build the hospital? There are going to be thousands of people coming to this benefit.’
“I looked away and one of the workmen called out to me, ‘Hey Mr. T, take a look.’ It was the craziest cloud formation I have ever seen in my life. The clouds just pulled apart and, so help me, it looked like there was a crescent moon with a star over it. And it stayed that way. It never moved.”
Danny’s humble prayer seemed to have been heard and kept the storm at bay for the entire show, finally unleashing a torrent of rain only as the crowd was heading back to the parking lot.
Setting the stage for the future
The show managed to raise $5,300 to help build St. Jude and it served as the launching pad for the star-studded events to follow. It also served as a historic moment for one of the world’s most famous streets.
The Memphis City Council had decreed a few years before that all Memphis streets that ran east-west would be called “avenues,” thus altering the name of legendary Beale Street—known as the home to many blues legends over the years—to Beale Avenue.
Dismayed, Danny sat in his hotel room the night before the event and penned a song titled “Bring Back My Beale Street.” He performed the song at the benefit, prompting Memphis Mayor Frank Tobey to publicly vow that the street known for the blues would become a “street” again.
The evening set the stage for the future. In 1957, entertainers such as Jane Russell, singer Roberta Sherwood and the yet-to-be-crowned King of Rock ’n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, would perform in the second star-studded gala. And just as before, rain threatened the event. But the Memphis newspaper headline brimmed with the confidence of two years ago: “Rain predicted, but never fear, Danny’s here.” And, just as in 1955, the thundershower miraculously waited patiently for the show to end.
But the “Shower” of Stars was just beginning. The first event to bear the name Shower of Stars took place in 1970 and featured Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and of course, Danny and “That Girl” Marlo Thomas. The shows continued until the final Shower of Stars in 1977, but the support of Hollywood continued to thrive through telethons and the annual Hollywood Gala that was organized by Danny’s wife, Rose Marie Thomas.
Last update: April 2003