Tiny Tim $Nobody's
Laughing At Him Now$
Today we're all supposed to do our own thing--be in our own bag--one bag to a customer, please. But Tiny Tim has two bags: the ethereal effeminate one he's put himself into, and the for-real beat-up old shopping bag in which he schleps around his "Dear sweet ukulele," not to mention his cosmetics" (he washes his face ten times a day, shaves twice, showers at least four times), a copy of Police Detective magazine, a pulp mystery paperback (Perry Mason and Charlie Chan are particular favorites. "Perry Mason ... taught me so much about the law! And Charlie-Chan! He taught me a lot about life, thank God!"), plus two notebooks that contain the lyrics of 500 songs, a copy of the New Testament and his health foods to complete the load. As he bends to replace his treasures in their receptacle, his long hair sweeps the floor.
Tiny Tim is 6 feet tall. There, all resemblance to other mortal men stops--Tiny Tim is show business' hottest phenomenon.
No matter what the reaction--pro or con--it is strong. Tiny has been the butt of many biting digs and many flowery compliments.
He's been called a "holy fool" and the "high freak." He's been described as looking like "St. Theresa in drag," on the cover of his album, God Bless Tiny Tim. He's great say some . . . "but would you let him marry your sister?" Others accuse him of being so frail, "he gets winded playing chess." He's been called a "grotesque, bizarre, Medusa in the Emperor's New Clothes," and, in a word, by some writers, "Yich!"
Some call him "humble"-say he's acted his role so long it's really part of him. "He's always overwhelmed." He usually is surrounded by beautiful girls--they seem to understand him. "I believe he's a dedicated person," declared one photographer after shooting pix of Tiny. "Everybody can't understand him, but he's charming."
Yet for all this he never changes; he is the same rare bird he always was and trills the same tune on or off the air. His ugly-duckling charm has touched the mood of today and those with acute show business radar, like Johnny Carson, Rowan and Martin, and Jerry Lewis, have stopped laughing and started booking him. In a way Tiny does seem untouchable--as if it doesn't matter what you say-- he just goes on blowing kisses. "But it's not a put-on," says Tiny, recoiling in horror from such a suggestion. "The voices of the past live within me. I'm just the instrument that brings them to life. All I want to do is spread joy all over."
While the dispute over just what it is he is spreading wages on, Tiny keeps working. And it's the same all over. He walks on stage curtseying and blowing kisses. The giggles begin, the elbows poke at neighboring ribs. But he seems not to notice. He stands there, a ragbag in plaid shirt, checked jacket, pink tie with green scallops, baggy gray slacks and black dress shoes. "Hel-lo my dear friends," he croons, smoothing his tangled, stringy hair. His long bony fingers dance over to the shopping bag, out comes the left-handed uke and, with a toss of his hair, he begins to vocalize.
But, even if this buck-toothed, bountifully beaked, skelitally-thin phenomenon is what he appears to be, where did it all begin?
He was born Herbert Khaury, 40 or so years ago, in New York City. He grew up in Washington Heights.
"My father came here from Lebanon before I was born. He's a knitter, dear old sweet thing, and he's almost 80 and he's studied law and dabbled in antiques and I'm so glad what's happening to me now is happening while he is alive.
"My mother, Tillie, is Jewish and from Poland and works in the garment district and Daddy is a Catholic. Isn't that a wonderful combination? I'm an only child, of course. There couldn't be another me."
While that may be true, Tiny is another of many others whose voices he says live inside him. Just a few of the golden goodies who live again: Jeanette MacDonald, Billy Williams, Henry Burr, Arthur Fields, Gene Austin and Rudy Vallee.
Tiny began singing in school (P.S. 169, P.S. 115, and Stuyvesant and George Washington High Schools). "I never did well in school, but I had these songs in me and I had to present their goodness to somebody else," he recalls. "I never finished high school," he adds quietly.
"I tried to join the Army at least eight times but I couldn't pass the written test. There was a square and you had to choose which other square looked most like it. Well, a11 the squares looked alike to me."
So, still a civilian, Tiny kept singing. "I sang on the streets, on the subway, on amateur shows. I and a friend used to sing for our suppers in Brooklyn bars. He'd sing and I'd pass the hat and vice versa, for whatever coins we could get."
In 1954 he let his hair grow; he felt he got a better reaction that way. It was about that time that he took to storming Tin Pan Alley (New York's famous music center), sweeping into record producers' offices announcing:
"Hello there! Today I have the new No. 1 hit in my hand, and I hope somebody here is going to listen to it and not throw a million dollars away."
Looking back now, he recalls, "Maybe it was my voice or the way I looked, but nobody listened long. And one man even said, 'Who needs a million dollars?' I wonder what he's thinking now?"
Tiny had many names in those days: Vernon Castle, Emmett Swing, Darry Dover, Dollie Dell and Larry Love. He's been Tiny Tim for five years.
He was earning $40 a week playing Greenwich Village Clubs like the Big Fat Black Pussy Cat. Then his big break came when Page Three closed and an unemployed Tiny ventured uptown to a club called The Scene.
No sooner had he entered than he was asked to leave--but someone in the audience remembered Tiny from the Village and called out to him to do his bit. He did ... and was hired.
And the people dug him and wanted to see more of him. And the word spread across the land.
NBC radio's Monitor broadcast an interview with Tiny conducted by TV personality Gene Rayburn. Gene asked the questions the country wanted asked and Tiny answered.
Is Tiny really for real?
"As Al Smith said in 1928, 'Take a look at the record.' I really mean everything I say and do. I hope in time I can prove it." And he went on to explain how life is inside his bag.
"I have an old windup phonograph at home and when I put an old record on I actually put my nose to the label and I love to smell the label and the record as the record rolls. I just watch the record with my head down and I just look at the threads--the black threads on the RCA Victor label for instance--and I just love to put my ear to the phonograph box like the Master's Dog. I really feel the music and records and shellac in my soul.
"I don't try to imitate anyone although I do try to bring back their styles. These are souls that live in me. The falsetto is something that came to me in about 1953. I used to sing straight songs. I did more of the current songs like "Blue Bird of Happiness," which Mr. Pierce made famous, and also "Underneath The Arches,""Golden Earrings," "The Victory Polka," and all the songs of that time. They were great songs. I used to hear the Manhattan Merry-Go-Round. I used to turn the lights out, close the door, keep my friends out and get in with the music so deeply I would picture myself there with a beautiful angel in paradise."
All this brought up the question of Tiny's age. He's very coy about that.
"Well, I tell you, I don't try to keep my age a mystery for speculation. The only reason I don't tell my age is because I really do feel ageless and I really try to hypnotize youth into myself. I believe and feel that I'm 19."
All that youthful exuberance must come from good health. Eh, Tiny?
"Well, I don't like telling lies--sometimes I do tell little white ones, but it's only to protect other people. So I can tell you the honest truth. Yes, I do believe I eat a lot of health foods like the thing I showed to Mr. Carson on The Tonight Show. On the bottom of the glass was wheat germ, on top of that sunflower seeds, on top of that pumpkin seeds and on top of that, honey. Well, usually I stick to that diet. It's so nutritious and so vitamin-filled that I drink it down with mineral water. I never touch sink water. I always have my health foods with mineral water and it sustains me so well because you get your honey, which is God's own food. As the Bible says, 'Eat honey and live.' And then you've got your pumpkin seed which is hulled in the sun along with the sunflower seed--which is the Indian seed, and you know how long they live. And also the raw wheat germ which is the heart of the kernel. This is enough to sustain most people. I put it in a glass and I eat it with a spoon and, oh, it is sooooooooo......" It seemed that words failed Tiny or perhaps his mouth was watering too much to talk. Gene Rayburn ventured a question about meat.
"Well, sometimes I cheat. You know I believe the good Lord put all foods on the earth to be good but the thing is, if I can, I'd love to stay away from meat. But some times I do drink beer. But only in California. There's a special beer there with Rocky Mountain spring water. I do hope some of the beers in New York take an example from that--because who knows what kind of water they're putting into it." After profuse thanks to Mr. Rayburn, Tiny left, heading--maybe to the bank--or maybe to take another shower.
Source: ALICE SCHONINGER, TV Radio Mirror
Reproduced according to "Fair Use"