Feb 5, 2015

Forgotten Folk - Tiny Tim

All of my life Tiny Tim has been somewhat of a mystery wrapped in an enigma.  He was primarily known for singing classic songs in a high falsetto voice while playing his ukulele.  I remember masses of people (my folks included) adamantly professing that they weren't Tiny Tim fans, but being glued to the television whenever he appeared on shows like Johnny Carson or Laugh In.  Case in point.. 40 million viewers tuned in to see Tiny Tim marry his first wife "Ms. Vicki" on the Johnny Carson Show.  I remember folks talking about that event for an entire decade after it happened. It was the most viewed televised wedding of all time, and remained so until 1982 when the Princess Diana and Prince Charles wedding garnered 750 million viewers worldwide.

After hours of research, I learned Tiny Tim was much more than a funny looking outrageous performer, and feel it my duty to share what I've learned to help enlighten the masses.

Who is Tiny Tim?
Herbert B. Khaury was born on April 12, 1932, and passed away on December 1, 1996.  As a young boy, he immersed himself in classic American music from the 1940's all the way back to the 1800's.  His idols were performers such as Al Jolson, Henry Burr, Rudy Vallee, Irving Kaufman, and Bing Crosby just to name a few.  He was inspired in the 1940's by musical artist Arthur Godfrey, bought his book "You too can play ukulele", and succinctly taught himself how to play the instrument.

The stage name "Tiny Tim" was concocted one night when his manager booked him to perform at a venue that was known for musical and comedy acts performed by little people. Performing or not, Tiny Tim was seldom found without his trusty ukulele.  Tiny's receptacle of choice that he would carry it around in, was usually a paper bag.  Pulling his ukulele from the bag would always get chuckles and laughs from the audience.

His Music
Tiny Tim is probably best known for his remake of the 1926 hit song "Tiptoe through the tulips".  But many find it surprising that he didn't always sing with the high falsetto voice he became so widely known for.  Tiny Tim only sang in his natural voice which was quite lovely, during the early part of his career.  By chance, he started experimenting with his voice and discovered he could sing in an incredibly high pitch as well.  It wasn't until he entered a talent show and performed with his high voice that his career skyrocketed.

Performance of Tiptoe through the Tulips on Johnny Carson
This song hit #17 on the music charts in 1968

My favorite Tiny Tim song has to be Livin' in the sunlight, Lovin' in the moonlight.  The song was originally made famous by Maurice Chevalier back in 1930.  Once you listen to it, you'll swear that it's the perfect song for the optimists of the world.  Tiny Tim was introduced to a whole new generation when this very song was used on the first ever episode of Sponge Bob Square pants. Its for this reason that my kids and many of their friends are now well aware of who Tiny Tim is. 

Tiny Tim in the movie - An Odd Thought 
He plays the part of an eccentric curio shopkeeper to a tee.

What the heck was up with the weird guy act?
Tiny Tim himself said that he was "the master of confusion" and nobody really knew who he was. I've noticed this statement still stands true to this day.  It's obvious Tiny Tim had talent, so what was with the weirdo shtick?  Quite simply, Tiny Tim stuck with what worked for him, and that weirdness factor gained him a cult following that exists to this day.

After hours of reading and viewing virtually every Tiny Tim website and video on the internet, I've come to the conclusion that Tiny Tim's weird guy act was sheer genius.  It was said by friends and those who knew him, that the weird guy persona was completely opposite of who Tiny Tim really was.  If you ever heard him when he was out of character, it was incredibly evident that he was an intelligent man who was nothing short of a walking encyclopedia when it came to old songs and classic American music.

A Good Egg
Contrary to what many believe, Tiny Tim never fell into the snare of drugs or substance abuse.  He also had an immense respect for his elders, those whom he greatly admired, and his fellow man.  Once while appearing with Bing Crosby on television, Tiny Tim repeatedly kept addressing him as "Mr. Crosby". When told that it was okay for him to refer to him as Bing, Tiny Tim did... as "Mr. Bing".   Tiny Tim also prided himself on his relationship with God, and his belief that Jesus was his savior.  In the 90's during a visit on the Howard Stern show, he was offended by Howard Stern and the staff using Jesus name in vain, and refused to appear on the show again.

The more videos I watched of Tiny Tim, the more evident it became that he was a kind, respectful, compassionate human being.  It got to the point during my online research that I was actually enthralled by watching him in everyday situations.  I once saw a video clip where he was doing some shopping in Des Moines Iowa, for a St. John's Bay lined flannel shirt which he was quite enthusiastic about.  I kind of get that, because St John's Bay does make a heck of a shirt. My old man had some St. John's Bay flannel that seemed like it was indestructible, and is probably still in his closet to this day!  It was also interesting to see how gracious he was while interacting with the store staff, and fans that asked him for autographs.

Below are two video clips of Tiny Tim on "The Coca Crystal show" during Veteran's Day 1981.  This Manhattan based public access show ran for about thirteen years, and was the type of show that the SNL Wayne's World skits were based off of.  I believe Coca Crystal was expecting Tiny Tim to bring some real weirdness to the show, but other than his cheap suit and enormous bow tie, he was very even keeled and professional.  When asked to perform, he even insisted on singing old American standards dedicated to our veterans.

Tiny's last call
In September 1996, Tiny Tim suffered a heart attack at a ukulele festival in Massachusetts just as he was beginning to perform.  He was hospitalized for about three weeks, and was strongly encouraged to no longer perform.  Being the entertainer he was, he decided to play at a benefit ball for The Woman's Club of Minneapolis two months later.  While performing on stage, he again suffered another heart attack and died later that night in the hospital.

Call Tiny Tim what you will, but it's become obvious to me that he indeed had talent, and an incredible knack for giving people what they wanted.  What's more.. he was truly a decent human being, which always goes a long way with me personally.

Tiny Tim went from making $50,000 a week in Vegas at the height of his career, to at times accepting free dinners as forms of payment for appearances. However, no matter where his career was at any given time, he always expressed that he was thankful for everything he's experienced. Sadly, just as interest in Tiny Tim was once again on the rise, and many new bands were seeking to do collaborations with him, his life was cut short at the age of 64.  Word has it that there is a movie in the works based on Tiny Tim's life, and if it comes to fruition, I'll be one of the first in line to see it.

With that, I leave you with a final Tiny Tim video displaying what he did best.. making people laugh, all the while making them wonder.. "What the heck?"

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