Monday, October 12, 2009
Getting Hard with Tiny Tim
Was it really necessary to interview Tiny Tim? Is it necessary to interview anybody? Well, the biography, Tiny Tim (Playboy Press, 1976), by Harry Stein (son of librettist Joseph Stein, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof and Enter Laughing), is an out-of-print masterpiece, possibly the best book on show biz ever written. So, some believe, was Tiny’s 1968 Richard Perry-produced first album, God Bless Tiny Tim.
Reprinted from Oui, Aug. 1984:
Tiny Tim deserves a permanent speaking forum. Many of the national TV podiums from which he performed in the late ’60s have cast him aside, regarding him as a “charity guest.” He struggled for two decades before hitting the big time as a singer/pop aberration, then hit the Vegas bandwagon for resuscitation. He became a great American fad before having a chance to nurture his cult status as a unique artist and musicologist of early 20th century popular song, a virtually forgotten era—save for Tiny’s determination to sing its glories. He is also a most extraordinary connoisseur of women.
OUI: You’ve given out a customized trophy to the girl you consider most beautiful in the world, each year, for the past 20 years. Are you coming down the wire for this year’s winner?
Mr. Tim: First of all, it’s nice to be talking with Oui. Miss Vicki originally posed for Oui. I paid $15 apiece for two rare copies from Clint’s magazine shop in Kansas City two years ago. . . I have three girls in the running now for the trophy, but I’ll tell you the beginning: In 1963, I was working at the Page Three in the Village, where the girls liked each other. I was a confidante, one of the few men allowed into their parties. There’s always one who’s beautiful, but her partner’s ugly, like a man. My very first trophy cost $10 that year and went to Miss Snooky. Oh, did she love it. She was 18 years old, hard and tough, but she might have gone both ways. Mr. Warren Beatty saw her and fell for her, around the time Splendor in the Grass was popular, but she wouldn’t give him a tumble. She lost her trophy in ’64, said she wanted another one.
Last year’s trophy cost $110, plus I couldn’t ship it through the mail, so my cab from Miami to Naples was another hundred.
OUI: This is a serious event, no kidding around.
Mr. Tim: Absolutely. These girls fit in my dream world. I never give the trophy out until January 1st, because December 31st, two minutes before midnight, one may walk by. I’ve got to see them in person, for the first time that year, for them to qualify.
OUI: Did Tuesday Weld ever win?
Mr. Tim: No, I never saw her in person ’till 1968, Mr. Beatty introduced me. But she was married and that eliminated her. I wish I would have seen her when she was 18, I was crazy about her in 1960. She looks more fantastic now at 40 than ever.
OUI: Can winners be under 18?
Mr. Tim: Are you kidding, absolutely! This is pure, there’s no S-E-X involved, I don’t do those things until marriage, as much as I can avoid it, not that I’m a saint.
OUI: So these are not necessarily models, media figures.
Mr. Tim: Absolutely not, just girls. I go for the face first, the body doesn’t mean a thing to me. They have to have that certain look. Whoever won in ’64 is vague, it was a bad year. In ’65 I gave it to the only Black girl who ever got it, Barbara Williams. . . In ’66 I tried to give it to a 20-year-old beauty from Georgia, she came to The Scene on 46th Street where I was playing, stayed for a few months, we got into an argument. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, right from Tobacco Road. Marilyn Rosenberg.
OUI: Sounds like a Jewish girl.
Mr. Tim: She was.
OUI: You mean to say, you’ve never had carnal relations with any of these girls?
Mr. Tim: Never, never, I don’t believe in S-E-X until marriage, for the glory of God and for kids. But in 1969 I gave the trophy to Miss Vicki.
OUI: Was she your all-time greatest?
Mr. Tim: No. The all-time trophy winner was last year. The only woman I’ve ever loved more than any other woman in the world, now, yesterday or tomorrow. Forever Miss Dixie. This girl is 25, in West Virginia. She probably threw out the trophy because of a bitter relationship. With her I had an affair outside marriage. She couldn’t marry. Her husband died in an atomic plant in ’78 when 51 construction workers fell 170 feet into a water cooler. In order to receive financial benefits, which I couldn’t replace, she could not marry again.
OUI: What if you showed up at her doorstep tomorrow?
Mr. Tim: She’d slam the door in my face and say get the heck outta here. Oh, bitter, she’s bitterly angry at me. Oh, Miss Dixie. You can take them all. If I could have bought gold, she’d have an all-gold trophy. The only woman to slap me in the face. In death, if I get to heaven that’s the only one I want. I felt for Andy Gibb when he broke up with Victoria Principal, and he lost his show Solid Gold. She dumped him when his height for her was to the heavens. He was so obsessed with the love for her that he lost everything.
OUI: Who would be on your all-time, no-holds-barred list of women?
Mr. Tim: Of course, Elizabeth Taylor, when she was 15. But the all-time heavenly woman—if it was between her and Miss Dixie, it would be tough—Cheryl Tiegs is the most beautiful photographed face in the world. She looks good with her head up, down, any side, her mouth closed.
OUI: Would you fool around with her outside of marriage?
Mr. Tim: I would do everything I could not to. Firstly, if I had an affair with her, God’s punishment would be on me, and secondly, I would mar a beautiful diamond. But ironically, I wrote a song for her [singing]:
Don’t ever leave your husband, Cheryl Tiegs
Or I’ll be out to get you, yes indeed
It was in the Post. She left town.
Then I wrote a song for Morgan Fairchild. She was very angry. I went to the Limelight Disco when it was her night. I sang it for the British press, which angered her publicity director who said, “She takes no more pictures, Tiny Tim’s got enough publicity on her.” Which of course, wasn’t true—they approached me for an interview. I read that Miss Fairchild only eats three bites of food a day. What a great idea for me to reduce! So the song went [singing]:
Thank you Morgan Fairchild, you taught me how to eat
Three bites of food a day, and now I’m feeling sweet
Then I did a song for Koo Stark on The Don Lane Show in Australia last August, she was there [singing Eddie Cantor-style]:
If I had a girl like Koo Stark, brother
I would never pine
I’d love her so much every day
Prince Andrew would be sorry he let her get away
For every kiss she’d give me, I’d give her 20 back
For her I’d even diet and give up all my snacks
If I had a girl like Koo Stark, brother
I’d simply go cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo—all the time
OUI: What was her reaction to that?
Mr. Tim: She left town.
OUI: In recent years, we’ve noticed your picture in the sex magazines, on the arms of porn starlets at parties.
Mr. Tim: Not only that, but sometimes, if they ask me to, with these lovely girls who have no clothes on, my hand will be holding their. . . you know, chest. I was also seen a couple of times going into the Melody Burlesk—so let me confess in print: I would not only do it again, but wherever topless bars are, you’ll find me—if I have to go. As long as I don’t become a part of fooling around. As long as I don’t touch.
OUI: You’ve always stuck by that.
Mr. Tim: We never know why these things happen. The lady of the night could be fulfilling a need that he needs—the man who hasn’t had any sexual recognition, his body may be yearning, he may not be good-looking. And she may not have any other talent but to please the rejects. But everyone is a character and a creation of God’s grace. There is not one life unvaluable to Him, whether it’s a squatter in the Philippines or John D. Rockefeller. Only man looks at the prestige, but every life is a dot in God’s record book. Even the kid I lost who was only five months old, in 1970, may he rest in peace, I buried him in a coffin.
OUI: Wasn’t that a miscarriage, when Miss Vicki was five months pregnant?
Mr. Tim: Yes, he would’ve been a boy. Miss Vicki was rushed to the hospital. They wanted to throw the body away. I said never mind, I want a casket for him, that’s still a life. We buried him in Houston, and they asked what name you wanna call it. I just said, “Name it ‘It.’” It was born to Mr. & Mrs. Irving Khaury, that’s actually somewhere in Texas in a children’s grave. I said if I ever get to heaven, maybe It’ll open the door for us.
But every life is important. I found a girl in 1979, one of the most beautiful classics, could stand up to any movie star. I met her at the Follies Burlesk—Jade Summers. She was sitting in the audience in a leather jacket, 19 years old. The girl almost made me cry, she was so beautiful. She came on the Joe Franklin show with me. Then I heard she completely went the other way, selling herself on the street. I never saw her again. I actually prayed, thank-God-to-Christ, to the Lord, I’d do anything if her soul was saved.
OUI: Do you see a difference between prostitutes and porn stars?
Mr. Tim: I see a definite difference. Those who only do it on the screen are teasing. The prostitutes actually commit the act.
OUI: Certain porn starlets also turn tricks off-screen.
Mr. Tim: Well, if they then turn tricks. . . but if they only flash and nothing else, it’s a complete—they’re teasing men. Most housewives have a self-righteous pride—they’ll give something to their husbands if they have received a fur coat. But these [porn] women are doing what wives should be doing, they have humility.
OUI: We hear you’re huge in Australia these days. How did that develop?
Mr. Tim: Australia’s like a second country. I have my record and movie producer there, Martin Sharp. I’ve been there nine times in the past 10 years. I gave Helen Reddy her first big break in this country. I have a movie coming out there in ’85 called Street of Dreams, plus a record called Eternal Troubadour.
OUI: Can you sell out a bigger show in Australia than here?
Mr. Tim: They might have the edge, because in 1979 I set an all-time record for non-stop singing, two hours and 20 minutes. It was done at Luna Park in Sydney, and covered by all the Australian media. This non-stop medley consisted of songs from Thomas Edison’s day in 1878, from the cylinder machine, to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.
OUI: Your show at the Lone Star Cafe last month was a 40-minute medley, all in the same meter, same key—
Mr. Tim: Not in Australia—I sang 139 songs in their entirety in front of 300 people—waltzes, fox trots, ballads, rock. I had a great 10-piece orchestra, plus a conductor who could really play these songs, an old-timer, Mr. Marvin Lewis.
OUI: That’s hard to find.
Mr. Tim: Oh man, is it. . . But basically, though Australia has a slight edge, I don’t think right now I would pack ’em in in either country. But if someone would sponsor my plane, hotel, and a 10-piece orchestra, I don’t care if it’s the Muscular Dystrophy Fund, I would do three hours non-stop in Los Angeles for the Olympics. I would break the Australian mark, and I think finally there would be a breakthrough here.
OUI: You mean another shot in the limelight?
Mr. Tim: Imagine seeing me for three hours on the Olympics? I think it’s the best thing for the career right now, along with an MTV video, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” sung Jolson-style.
OUI: As we segue into nostalgia, what are your views on the Russ Columbo controversy? Did Bing Crosby really steal his voice 50 years ago, after he died?
Mr. Tim: You hit it. This is getting hot. Russ Columbo passed away accidentally in California at about 26 years old. An exceptionally good-looking man. I heard all these records, this is my opinion: Russ Columbo did not sound like Bing Crosby. Mr. Columbo was the pre-runner to a modern-day ’40s style. I make people mad, but that’s the way I see it. Frank Sinatra, Jerry Vale, Don Cornell, Alan Dale and Jack Leonard in ’35, a year after Mr. Columbo died, they all took it from him. His voice was very smooth, the first one, no one ever brought their voice down. I don’t think it’s been pointed out till this day.
OUI: Will you ever do your own encyclopedia of popular music?
Mr. Tim: I would love it. I would love to record, with the same orchestrations, the engineer who can get the same sound, Russ Columbo’s great hits, those of Rudy Vallee and Eddie Cantor—who I though was a better recording star than Jolson. Mr. Cantor had a great recording sound, especially in 1919. Ah, when he sang [singing] “When they’re old enough to know better, it’s better to leave them alone. . .” Or the spirit of Irving Kaufman, a fantastic idol. Thomas Edison discovered him in 1911. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kaufman at 80 when I was hot in Hollywood.
OUI: It’s your dream to replicate these records as a serious, academic project?
Mr. Tim: Yes, yes! I’m the only one today who has two-cylinder records, from the Edison Museum in Union, Illinois. I would love to do an album of Byron G. Harlan, who in 1902 was Mr. Edison’s favorite singer on the one-sided Victors. Arthur Collins, Dan W. Quinn, these were the top cylinder stars in 1898. No one knows Henry Burr, the Bing Crosby without a microphone in 1915. More mothers loved him than any other singer at that time.
OUI: What was the attraction of a pop singer like Burr back then, was it sexual, romantic?
Mr. Tim: He was very handsome, with curls, but portly. He started singing on cylinders in 1905. He had powerful lungs, but a real romantic sound.
OUI: Ever in touch with Irving Berlin?
Mr. Tim: In 1970 he presented me with a big book of songs, worth at minimum $10,000. On my first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, I did a song he wrote in 1915 called “Stay Down Here Where You Belong,” the devil talking to his son, a protest song. He said he was sorry he wrote it, thought it was forgotten. Like Bill Haley, who put the white man’s rock on the map—Blacks had their great rocks for years—that’s what Mr. Berlin did with “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” He was the first to popularize ragtime. In my opinion, ragtime was the first commercial phonographic teenage revolution, in 1907, lasting till 1915. Parents couldn’t stand ragtime, they were saying why can’t we go back to the old songs, like “By the Light of the Silvery Moon?”
OUI: Because they moved to Ragtime, there were more gyrations as each new musical style evolved.
Mr. Tim: Sensuality, that’s right.
OUI: Do you think the phonograph created “teenage” music?
Mr. Tim: Fantastic. Columbia and Victor, in my opinion, thought classical music was the most popular at the time, and singers like Billy Murray and Henry Burr were peasant singers in 1905, not worthy of promotion. But more teenagers listened to them than they did to Caruso and McCormick. The Murray records went for 60 cents on Black Seal/Victor labels, where the Red Seals were the prestigious artists. They found out 10 years later that they were outselling Caruso—it related more to the masses at bars, saloons, parlors. We don’t know about it today, but teenagers would come out by horse and buggy to see Billy Murray concerts, they’d pack ’em in there in Kansas City.
OUI: What a fascinating movie that could make. You assume there was no such thing as being a teenager till Elvis, that a teen subculture never existed.
Mr. Tim: That’s not so. They had great recording stars, tons of record companies. We just don’t know about it today.
Photos by Jeff Goodman
© 1984, 2009 Josh Alan Friedman