Sunday, December 17, 2006


Believe it or not-- on this day in 1969, the Tonight Show staged an event that garnered a fifty million person audience. It was the wedding of Tiny Tim to "Miss Vicki" on national television. Does anybody remember this incredibly odd performer. Oh I do! I worked at a record shop in my youth where Tiny Tim in the 1960's had become a cultural phenomenon. Fifteen minutes of fame had never lasted this long! Tiny Tim already had something of a cult following around New York when he appeared in the film You Are What You Eat. This led to a booking on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In an American television comedy and variety show, which turned out to be his big break. Other appearances on the shows of Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan , and Jackie Gleason followed, and he made a name for himself as a novelty performer. Apart from his extraordinarily high falsetto voice, his appearance—long curly hair, large nose, tall stature (he was six feet one inch), and his relatively tiny ukulele all of these —helped him stand out distinctly from the crowd. In 1968, his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim was released. It contained a version of his signature song, Tiptoe Through The Tulips, which was a hit when 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. On one track, a version of "I Got You Babe", he sang a duet with himself, taking one part in falsetto, and the other 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 World War One.. It is written from the standpoint of Satan talking to his son, and is a powerful condemnation of those who foment war. The comedian Groucho Marx also used this song as part of his own act, at least in part to irk the patriotic Berlin, who in later years tried in vain to disown the song: "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." At the end of the year, he appeared with the Beatles on their 1968 Christmas record exclusively issued to their fan club, singing "Nowhere Man" The following year, Tiny Tim recorded and released two more albums and a collection of children's songs. In order to cash in on Tiny Tim's popularity, the album Concert in Fairyland was released by a small record label. It consisted of some of his pre-fame songs with faux crowd reactions dubbed over them to create a fictional "live concert" recording. So for the wedding on television that I speak of Tiny wrote his own marriage vows, including the promise to be "not puffed up." Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki made more news a month later with the announcement that they were expecting a baby. Comedians at the time suggested the name VicTim. Miss Vickie miscarried; however a later attempt at childbirth succeeded.
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, Victoria Tulip, 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 this career highlight, however, Tiny Tim's television appearances reduced, and his popularity began to wane. He continued to play around the United States and made several lucrative appearances in Las Vegas By 1985 , he resorted to joining a circus for eight months. He briefly lived in Australia , then moved to Des Moines, Iowa before marrying for the third time (his second marriage had lasted for just one month) and moving to Minneapolis] , Minnesota This final marriage also took place on "The Tonight Show," then hosted by Jay Leno -- this came as a real surprise for me! But I did discover that no other Tonight show has ever reached that fifty million person mar again on this show! In the 1990s, interest in Tiny Tim seemed to pick up a little. He began to release records again, including I Love Me (1995) and Girl (1996). He also recorded his last music video with NYC's punk rock band Ism.(1996) It was a punk remake of Tiptoe Through The Tulips and was never officially released. He frequently appeared on The Howard Stern Radio Show and in Stern's movie, Private Parts (1997), as well as occasional appearances on other television programs. Tiny 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. In September 1996, he suffered a heart attack just as he began singing at a Ukulele Festival at the Montague Bookmill in Montague, Massachusetts. He was hospitalized at the Franklin County Medical Center in Greenfield, mass Massachusetts for approximately three weeks before being discharged with strong admonitions to no longer perform due to his state of health and the difficulty of proper dietary needs for his medical conditions i.e. diabetes and congestive heart failure. He continued to play concerts despite warnings from his doctors that, due to the fragile state of his heart, he could die any moment. While playing Tiptoe Through The Tulips at a Gala Benefit at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis in November of that year, he suffered another heart attack on stage. He was led out by his wife who asked him if he was okay. Tim responded, "No, I'm not!" Those were to be his final words. 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 saw fit to never release it. It sat on the shelf until its limited internet-only release some 32 years later. As I said before fifteen minutes of fame has never lasted as long! Well until another day! More Christmas in retail! We did over $12,000 yesterday and we were open one extra hour-- wow what a long day! This sure beats Christmas at Hooper's. Well on to church! bye for today!

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