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The Bootleg Files: A Special Tiny Tim

BOOTLEG FILES 636: “A Special Tiny Tim” (1970 television special).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The program was never released in the U.S. for either broadcast or home entertainment audiences.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.

On January 22, 1968, American television viewers got their first view of Herbert Buckingham Khaury, an entertainer who appeared in the New York club scene for years under a variety of stage names before settling on Tiny Tim. The performer was featured on the premiere episode of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” and with his long and flowing hair, large beaked nose and fluttery movements he made quite an impression. Tiny Tim came on stage, pulled a soprano ukulele from a shopping bag and began singing “A Tisket, A Tasket” and “On the Good Ship Lollipop” in an astonishing falsetto while funnyman Dick Martin looked on in astonishment. Although the response from the viewers’ mail was decidedly mixed, Tiny Tim was invited back two weeks later, performing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in the same eccentric style as his first appearance.

Tiny Tim’s “Laugh-In” gigs would earn him repeat appearances on that show plus guest shots on Ed Sullivan’s variety show, “Hollywood Palace” and Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” – most notably on December 17, 1969, when he married Victoria Budinger (billed as Miss Vicki) on live television, with 40 million viewers in attendance. Tiny Tim also snagged a record deal with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label and did concerts across the U.S. and in the U.K.

In early 1970, Tiny Tim was invited to Australia for a concert tour. While in the country, he starred in a television special produced by the nation’s 7 Network channel. “A Special Tiny Tim” was never broadcast in the U.S., primarily because it was shot in black-and-white – Australian television was years behind the U.S. for color broadcasting. There was also the question of the show’s quality. If you’re a Tiny Tim fan, the production is heavenly. If you believe that Tiny Tim should only be taken in miniscule doses (if at all), the show is torturous.

“A Special Tiny Tim” begins with a montage of silent movie chases with an appropriately frenetic piano accompaniment. Shots of Tiny Tim mugging along to the action are choppily intercut, giving a dismal suggestion that the star is reacting to footage from 55 years earlier. After the title sequence, Tiny Tim is seen arriving at an airport and greeting fans.

We finally get to hear Tiny Tim when he walks out on a garish set and begins to warble old-time ditties as “My Dreams Are Getting Better” and “Long Live the Ladies.” Canned laughter and applause percolate his performances, and things get strange when he announces “a duet with myself” in which he alternates a song stanza between his natural baritone voice and his trademark falsetto/vibrato.

After this rocky opening, “The Special Tiny Tim” abruptly finds its groove as the star is seated while playing a guitar. A few extras in background wearing Outback rancher clothing, including one man shearing a sheep, give some Down Under flavor as Tiny Tim performs Australia-centric tunes like “Snake Gully Swagger,” “Bushwhacker,” “Beautiful Queensland” and “Advance Australia Fair.” An Australian flag is displayed at the end of the set. The Australian songs are performed without fey camp, and even the unlikely use of a bullhorn on “Bushwhacker” works to the song’s favor.

Up next, a group of dancers seemingly stuck in the space-time continuum – some jitterbug, others twist – populate the stage while Tiny Tim does a somewhat enervated “Rock Around the Clock.” That’s followed by travelogue footage of Tiny Tim riding a horse-drawn buggy around Sydney and wandering through streets, only to be followed by another 50s-style number with a very mild rendition of “Great Balls of Fire.”

From here, things get a bit icky as Tiny Tim entertains a squad of children on a cellophane set that is supposed to resemble a rainbow-kissed garden. Tunes like “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” “Mickey the Monkey” and “The Viper” are performed for the somewhat unappreciative tykes. The segment with the kiddies is extended until the closing credits, with Tiny Tim offering a long-overdue “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in the closing credits.

By U.S. standards, “A Special Tiny Tim” is odd for the lack of guest stars. It is unclear who made the decision to keep the spotlight solely on Tiny Tim and not bring in other acts to help balance the program. That would have been extremely helpful because, to be cruel, Tiny Tim really wears out his welcome by the halfway mark. His mincing and mugging is amusing at first, and his versatile handling of the Australian songs affirms he was a genuine talent. But watching Tiny Tim is like eating ice cream – one or two scoops are great, three is a guilty pleasure, but by nine or ten scoops you get a bellyache and sour distaste for the treat.

Tiny Tim returned from Australia to find his popularity in the U.S. beginning to wane. Although he turned up on game shows and variety programs, the novelty of his appearance had evaporated and he was considered a has-been by the mid-70s. He continued to make concert appearances in the U.S. and Australia, he wasn’t back in the spotlight at full throttle until the 1990s when Howard Stern resurrected him for a series of memorable turns on his shock-jock show. Tiny Tim died of a heart attack in 1996 while performing at a Women’s Club benefit in Minneapolis – most of the audience had already walked out during the show before his fatal collapse on the stage.

“A Special Tiny Tim” has popped up on YouTube, but it is unlikely that it will ever see a U.S. home entertainment release. For the Tiny Tim fans out there – and, yes, they do exist – this is the only way to see their favorite singer at center stage in his sole television special.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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