Intrigo: Death of an Author
This film tells us that the gulf between what we want to know and what we can know may never be illuminated.
I first saw Tiny Tim very early in his career, in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1962-63. There was a convention of college newspaper editors, and a few of us -- I remember Jeff Greenfield coming along -- went to the Black Pusssycat and found ourselves being entertained by a man the likes of whom we'd not seen before. He was already locally popular.
In another year, Tiny Tim was famous. I believe no one remembers how famous. The Beatles asked him to sing "Nowhere Man" on a bootleg Christmas recording. He did a night at Royal Albert Hall. He was married to Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show, still one of the top-rated TV shows of all time.
I lived at the Sunset Marquis on Alta Loma, half a block down from Sunset, while I was writing "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." Tiny Tim was a fellow resident, along with Van Heflin, Roy Scheider, Elaine May, Jackie Gayle and Harold Ramis. Tiny Tim kept very much to himself. The one or two times I saw him, he was polite and formal. The friendly all-night desk clerk confided, "I don't think he's much like you see on TV. He seems more serious."
He was very famous for a long time, and then faded from view. He continued to perform all the time. Money was not the object. Dare we speculate he simply loved the songs and the singing of them?
After the videos (there are dozens online), I've included much of the biographical essay by Wikipedia.
Herbert Khaury (April 12, 1932 November 30, 1996), better known by the stage name Tiny Tim, was an American singer, ukulele player, and musical archivist. He was most famous for his rendition of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" sung in a distinctive high falsetto/vibrato voice (though his normal singing voice was in a standard male range). He was generally regarded as a novelty act, though his records indicate his wide knowledge of American songs. He had no official middle name, though some web sites report it to be "Butros", his father's first name, while during his televised wedding his middle name was given as "Buckingham". His headstone reads "Khaury/Herbert B/Tiny Tim/1932-1996".
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Tiny Tim developed something of a cult following. In the 1960s he was seen regularly near the Harvard University campus as a street performer, singing old Tin Pan Alley tunes. His choice of repertoire and his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage popular music impressed many of the spectators. One admirer, Norman Kay, recalled that Tiny Tim's outrageous public persona was a false front belying a quiet, studious personality: "Herb Khaury was the greatest put-on artist in the world. Here he was with the long hair and the cheap suit and the high voice, but when you spoke to him he talked like a college professor. He knew everything about the old songs.
Between 1962 and 1966 Tiny Tim recorded a number of songs at small (almost microscopic) recording companies, with several of them being made as "acetates" and one actually released as a 45 record. These songs illustrate that even very early on he had a decided drive for success and was getting noticed in a positive way, despite his looks and unusual manner. However he also recorded one entire batch of songs that would come back to disastrously haunt him at the peak of his greatest fame.
Tiny Tim appeared in Jack Smith's Normal Love, as well as the independent feature film You Are What You Eat (his appearance in this film featured him singing the old Ronettes hit, "Be My Baby" in his falsetto range; also featured was a rendition of Sonny and Cher's I Got You Babe, with Tim singing the Cher parts in his falsetto voice, along with Eleanor Barooshian reprising Sonny Bono's baritone part. These tracks were recorded with Robbie Robertson and the other members of what was going to become known as The Band. The latter performance led to a booking on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, an American television comedy-variety show. Dan Rowan announced that Laugh-In believed in showcasing new talent, and introduced Tiny Tim. The singer entered, blowing kisses, and sang "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" to Dick Martin.
This stunt was followed by several more appearances on Laugh-In and a recording contract with Reprise Records. He made a name for himself as a novelty performer, guesting with Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan, and Jackie Gleason. At the height of his career, he was commanding a weekly salary of $50,000 in Las Vegas, Nevada. "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" became Tiny Tim's signature song. He sang it in homage to its originator, singer-guitarist Nick Lucas. He invited Lucas to sing at his wedding in 1969.
In 1968, his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, was released. It contained an orchestrated version of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", which became a hit after being released as a single. The other songs displayed his wide-ranging knowledge of the American songbook, and also allowed him to demonstrate his baritone voice, which was less often heard than his falsetto. He did his second recorded version of "I Got You Babe", this time singing a "duet" with himself, taking Cher's part in falsetto, and Sonny's part in the baritone range. "On the Old Front Porch" extends this to a trio, including a boy (Billy Murray), the girl he is courting (Ada Jones), and her father (probably Murray again). Another notable song was a cover of "Stay Down Here Where You Belong", written by Irving Berlin in 1914 to protest the Great War. It is written from the standpoint of Satan talking to his son, and is a powerful condemnation of those who foment war: "To please their kings, they've all gone out to war, and not a one of them knows what they're fighting for... Kings up there are bigger devils than your dad." (The comedian Groucho Marx also used this song as part of his own act, at least in part to irk Berlin, who in later years tried in vain to disown the song.
Reprise followed up "Tulips" with another single, "Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days", in which he sang this "mammy song" in baritone in the style of Harry Richman, and lapsed into his higher register only for a few moments near the end of the song. The record did receive some radio exposure in America but was not nearly as successful as the novelty song "Tulips". "Rockabye Baby Days" fared better in the UK, where music hall songs were still remembered fondly.
Before another legitimate Reprise Tiny Tim album could be released a small record label got hold of some of his very early recordings and overdubbed them with canned applause, creating a fictional "live concert" recording to cash in on Tiny Tim's popularity with an album, Concert in Fairyland. This release damaged Tiny Tim's recording career and sales of his next two albums. Regardless, Tiny Tim recorded and released two more albums for Reprise, Tiny Tim's Second Album 1968, and For All My Little Friends, 1969, a collection of children's songs. the latter was nominated for a Grammy Award. In addition, he recorded six more songs, which Reprise released as his final three singles.
On December 17, 1969, Tiny Tim married Victoria Mae Budinger (aka "Miss Vicki") on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, a publicity stunt that attracted some 40 million viewers. Tiny wrote his own marriage vows, including the promise to be "not puffed up." He and Miss Vicki made even more news a month later with the announcement that they were expecting a baby, with comedians at the time suggesting the name VicTim. The baby was miscarried, but a subsequent child was born healthy and survived. In contrast to the romance-oriented publicity of their wedding, Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki mostly lived apart, and divorced eight years later. Their daughter, Tulip Victoria, is now married and living in Pennsylvania with four children.
In August 1970, Tiny Tim performed at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 in front of a crowd of 600,000 people. His performance, which included English folk songs and rock and roll classics, was a huge hit with the multinational throng of hippies. At the climax of his set, he sang "There'll Always Be an England" through a megaphone which brought the huge crowd to its feet. This can be seen in the 1995 movie of the event, Message to Love.
After the career highlight in the UK, however, Tiny Tim's television appearances dwindled, and his popularity began to wane. He continued to play around the United States, making several lucrative appearances in Las Vegas. When he lost his Reprise recording contract he founded his own record label, and humorously named it Vic Tim Records, as a pun on the combination of his wife's name with that of his own. In 1971 and 1972 his Vic Tim label would release his next five singles, but then it ceased to exist. A lone single followed on Scepter Records in 1972. In 1973 he founded another record company which he dubbed Toilet Records, but this also folded. It was three years before he was able to record and release another record in the United States, but he did release two singles on the Bellaphon label in West Germany in 1973, a combined single from these was released by Polydor Records in the UK and Belgium in 1974. In 1976 he recorded again in the US and, from that point on, one or more virtually every year through 1990.
Also in 1976 a young teenage boy (and aspiring punk-rock musician) named Richard Barone succeeded essentially on the spur of the moment on getting Tiny Tim recorded onto a number of cassettes and then into a local recording studio, and thus recorded two whole albums of material. One of these albums finally saw release only in late 2009.
In 1979 and 1980 Tiny Tim went to Australia where he was able to record his first fully planned studio albums since 1970. Three albums were produced by record producer Martin Sharp. Only a few hundred copies were made of the first and only 1000 of the second. None of these were ever released in the U.S. at the time they were made. These would be Tiny Tim's last albums until 1986.
In 1985, he hired a teenage disc jockey named Rick Hendrix from WHKY in North Carolina to manage his dates. Living at the Olcott Hotel in New York City, the duo began to revive the once-famous icon. Tiny Tim released the song, "Santa Claus Has Got the Aids This Year",and joined the Alan C. Hill circus. In 1986/87 he starred as a ukulele-playing psycho clown in the cult B-grade horror film Blood Harvest (1987), directed by Bill Rebane.
In 1988, Tiny Tim released a country single for the Nashville-based NLT records entitled "Leave Me Satisfied". He spent time promoting it to country radio and fans that year, and made a visit to Nashville during Country Music Fan Fair, now called the CMA Music Festival. He actually recorded an entire country album in 1989 but this has to date never been officially released. Additionally he recorded a follow-up country album which seemingly true-to-form has never yet been released.
In the 1990s, as interest in Tiny Tim picked up, he released several albums, including Rock (1993), I Love Me (1993) and Girl (1996). He also recorded his last music video with New York's punk rock band, Ism. The recording was a remake of "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" but was never officially released. He made several appearances on The Howard Stern Radio Show, made a cameo in Stern's film, Private Parts (1997), and occasionally appeared on other television programs. Tim also worked with a number of other artists, including Brave Combo (his backing band on Girl) as well as Sydney based rock band His Majesty with whom he recorded the albums Tiny Tim Rock and Tiny Tim's Christmas Album, both of which were produced by Sydney artist and writer Martin Sharp. He was also championed by, and collaborated with, the bands Current 93 and Nurse With Wound.
Toward the end of his life, Tiny Tim became a fixture at "Spooky World", an annual Halloween-themed exposition in Shakopee, MN , just outside Minneapolis He also appeared in tongue-in-cheek television commercials for area merchants. He befriended a young musician and neighbor, Conductor Jack Norton, acted as his mentor, and taught Norton how to play the ukulele.
In September 1996, he suffered a heart attack just as he began singing at a ukulele festival at the Montague Grange Hall (often confused in accounts of the incident with the nearby Montague Bookmill, at which he had recorded a video interview earlier that same day) in Montague, Massachusetts. He was hospitalized at the nearby Franklin County Medical Center in Greenfield for approximately three weeks, before being discharged with strong admonitions to no longer perform, due to his frail health and the difficulty of proper dietary needs for his diabetic and heart conditions. While playing at a Gala Benefit at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis on November 30, 1996, he suffered another heart attack on stage. He was led out by his third wife, Susan Marie Gardner ("Miss Sue", whom he had married on August 18, 1995) who asked if he was okay. He responded, "No, I'm not."
He collapsed shortly thereafter and was rushed to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he died after doctors tried to resuscitate him for an hour and fifteen minutes. He is interred in the mausoleum of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.
In 2000, the Rhino Handmade label released the posthumous Tiny Tim Live at the Royal Albert Hall. This recording had been made in 1968 at the height of Tiny Tim's fame, but Reprise Records never released it. The limited-numbered CD sold out and was reissued on Rhino's regular label. In 2009, the Collector's Choice label released I've Never Seen A Straight Banana, recorded in 1976. The album was a collection of rare recordings of some of Tiny Tim's favorite songs from 1878 through the 1930s, along with some of his own compositions.
Tiptoe through the window By the window, that is where I'll be Come tiptoe through the tulips with me
Oh, tiptoe from the garden By the garden of the willow tree And tiptoe through the tulips with me
Knee deep in flowers we'll stray We'll keep the showers away And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight Will you pardon me? And tiptoe through the tulips with me
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