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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Tiny Tim: King for a Day (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Featuring Jonas Mekas, Richard Barone, Susan M. Khaury Wellman, Johnny Pineapple, Justin A. Martell, Eddie Rabin, Bernie Stein, Bobby Gonsalves, DA Pennebaker, Wavy Gravy, Harve Mann, Ron De Blasio, Tommy James, Richard Perry, Artie Butler, George Schlatter, Pat Barreat, Sherrye Weinstein, Rita Ritz, Tulip Stewart, Will Friedwald and archival footage of Herbert “Tiny Tim” Khaury.

Narrated by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Written by Martin Daniel and Johan Von Sydow.

Directed by Johan Von Sydow.

Distributed by Juno Films. 75 minutes. Not Rated.

Tiny Tim is the type of strange-but-true eccentric talent that could only have really flourished in the 1960s. And not only flourish, for a white-hot period he became a cultural icon, mainly because he was so willfully different from anyone out there, so unrepentantly weird.

His comically falsetto ukulele version of the vaudeville-era chestnut “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” became a huge hit (and to this day is still considered something of a musical classic, if a rather odd one…) after Tiny Tim performed it on Laugh-In. His on-the-air marriage to his paramour “Miss Vicki” on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show was at the time the second most-watched event in television history. (It was second only to the moon landing.)

Yet novelty acts like Tiny Tim are notoriously short-lived, and as bright as his peculiar star burned for a short time (about two years), it burnt out nearly as quickly. Even though he eventually was not exactly a shock and the world moved on to newer, even weirder acts, Tiny Tim was so determinedly offbeat that he was never really forgotten and was able to continue performing – though on a much smaller scale (sometimes an embarrassingly small scale) – for almost 30 years.

As Wavy Gravy, the mainstay of the hippie scene and head of the Hog Farm collective says in this documentary on the singer’s short and strange life, Tiny Tim was the type of act that you either just got, or you just didn’t.

Tiny Tim: King for a Day opens with a clip of Tiny Tim (born Herbert Khaury) doing a duet with himself on Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” in which he performs Cher’s lines in falsetto and Sonny’s lines in a normal singing voice. It’s an odd experience, and it also shows the juxtaposition of just being Tiny Tim, the two sides of his talent and his persona, an oddball split personality battling for superiority.

There was one thing that all sides of Tiny Tim agreed upon though. He craved the spotlight, to the point that it was almost an addiction. He even died on stage – the only place where he ever really felt comfortable – after disregarding his doctor’s orders that continuing performing would kill him.

He was so bracingly odd in the flower-power 60s that he became cool. After all, he stood out in a crowd, a very tall man named after a Dickens character with long, unkempt hair, a large nose and plaid outfits and neckties, playing Tin Pan Alley classics on a ukulele in a warbly falsetto.

Although his image was known for its edgy androgyny (at least edgy for the 1960s), while as a young man he questioned his sexuality, it appears that he was mostly very, very into girls. (And it seems, he was a tiny bit of a perv, though often more in thought than action.)

Even Tim recognized the falsetto vocals were odd. He called it his “sissy voice.” However, after several years of gaining no notice at all as a decent but unremarkable traditional vocalist, it was only when he changed things up radically – he says he was told by Jesus Christ to perform that way in a dream – that he gained attention in the dog-eat-dog world of show business.

Though he is mostly remembered for that voice – and it was his calling card – it belies the fact that not only did he have a quite decent baritone (as shown off on that “I Got You Babe” self-duet), but he also had an encyclopedic knowledge of music, and a great love of the music of 1890-1930.

Yeah, Tiny Tim was a bit of a joke character – and Herbert Khaury was in on the joke – but he was also a natural, a smart and talented showman. And yes, he was just a bit crazy, but he incorporated his eccentricity into his act.

Sadly, the world only tuned in and turned on to Tiny Tim for a short time. About a decade after his superstardom, he was broke, and living in his mother’s apartment in the Bronx – right where he started out. (Though it is not really explored in the film, Tim’s naivete led to him being swindled by his business managers.)

He took a series of oddball jobs – including being the ringmaster of a circus, doing eccentric covers of more current hits like “Staying Alive” and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” starring in a cheesy horror film, guesting on The Howard Stern Show and even as the host of a short-lived kids’ show called Tiny Tim & Friends that was a pretty blatant rip-off of PeeWee’s Playhouse. (Sadly, King for a Day does not share any footage of this offbeat career turn, but it is available on YouTube). He even did an album called Rock which was a bunch of hair metal cover songs.

He kept going long after most people would have given up, and for smaller and smaller audiences. Tiny Tim was mostly famous for being shocking and strange. You can only do that for so long before the world catches up with you.

But as King for a Day reminds us, he sure as hell had a fascinating, conflicted life.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: April 21, 2021.


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