The impermanence of the internet causes online culture to adopt its weirdo of the day before moving on, shoving the latest crazed viral sensation down the memory hole once its supplanted by the day’s latest oddity. It wasn’t always this way. When there were limited channels on television and no internet, when people saw something unusual, they remembered. One unforgettable character whose claim to fame was being weird was Tiny Tim, the odd-looking, lanky singer with a ukulele who sang in a bizarre falsetto. For a brief moment in time, Tiny Tim was a cultural sensation, constantly appearing on late night television, selling countless copies of his records, and even lending his image to a board game. How this wildly unusual character became a household name is the subject of a new documentary from director Johan von Sydow, Tiny Tim: King for a Day. It’s a fascinating biography that takes the viewer beyond Tiny Tim’s unique aesthetics and into the heart and soul of the man.
Tiny Tim was born Herbert Butros Khaury in New York City in 1932 to immigrant parents. Personal diaries of Tiny Tim’s are read by “Weird Al” Yankovic and they really paint a vivid portrait of Tiny Tim’s youthful dissatisfaction and tumultuous relationship with his parents. The diaries as well as interviews with family and friends gives the viewer an in-depth look at Tiny Tim’s unhappy youth, a deeply faithful Christian with a love for music but lacking in support from his parents or would-be audience members. Eventually, after plenty of trial and error, Tiny Tim under the moniker “Larry Love, the Singing Canary” took a gig performing at Hubert’s Museum and Live Flea Circus in New York City in the late ‘50s.
The times were becoming quite different, and soon Tiny Tim would adopt the name he’s known by to this day and start performing across Greenwich Village amidst the burgeoning folk music scene, eventually becoming good friends with Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Tiny Tim had his major breakthrough when he appeared on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, singing his biggest hit “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”. Soon his debut album God Bless Tiny Tim was a smash hit and the odd ukulele player with a unique style was one of the nation’s biggest acts, constantly appearing on television and touring the nation.
With success comes temptations, and Tiny Tim: King for a Day uses the singer’s diaries to explore his internal struggle between the temptations of the flesh and his deeply held Christian faith. This documentary isn’t afraid to explore the uglier aspects to Tiny Tim, such as encounters with very young girls. At the same time, the film explores just how much his own failings fed a faith-based sense of self-loathing. Eventually, Tiny Tim would be married on The Tonight Show to Victoria Mae Budinger who went by the name Miss Vicki. It was a rating bonanza for the late night talk show, but the marriage would soon fizzle out. After another unsuccessful marriage in the ‘80s, Tiny Tim would eventually wed Susan Marie Gardner who provides the film with plenty of interviews and personal materials.
After his heyday in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Tiny Tim struggled to stay relevant. He continued to tour and perform but the television appearances weren’t as frequent and the crowds weren’t as big. Trying different musical styles, Tiny Tim tried to remain in the public’s eye but it seemed as if the culture had moved on. Then Tiny Tim’s health started to decline. One of the most shocking clips in Tiny Tim: King for a Day is live performance where he collapses on stage after suffering a heart attack. Time and time again, this documentary proves its interested in the man who was Tiny Tim and not just the odd-looking surface that briefly captivated the nation.
Tiny Tim: King for a Day is a fascinating work of biographical documentary filmmaking, though I’m not entirely sure how this movie will play for those completely unaware of Tiny Tim. The film does give us a portrait of the man that isn’t just his striking visage. It’s a film that finds the triumph and tragedy of Tiny Tim’s life – the triumph of a truly unusual man reaching the heights of fame and the tragedy of a man who falls into all the trappings of fame. The sights and sounds of Tiny Tim are completely unforgettable, and Tiny Tim: King for a Day gives us a sense of the man beyond his oddness.
Tiny Tim: King for a Day
- Overall Score
A fascinating biography of a cultural oddity, Tiny Tim: King for a Day takes the viewer beyond the oddball aesthetic of Tiny Tim, going deep into the triumph and tragedy of a one-of-a-kind performer.