‘Tiny Tim: King for a Day’ Review

I’m not sure how many people under age 50 even know who Tiny Tim was. Perhaps they recall a mention of his most popular song “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” in one of the Harry Potter books or remember hearing the song in the 2010 horror film Insidious, or for his song “Living In The Sunlight” being featured on the first-ever episode of SpongeBob SquarePants; but if they happen to recognize his name, I expect very few in that age group understand the cultural phenomenon that was Tiny Tim…albeit for a short period of time.

Filmmaker Johan von Sydow opens with a clip of Tiny Tim singing “I’ve Got You Babe,” a hit song for Sonny and Cher. It’s likely a jarring opening for those unfamiliar with him, but it captures his unique style and stage presence. Weird Al Yankovic is the narrator that guides us through the story, and there are interviews with Tiny Tim’s widow Susan, his daughter Tulip (yep), and personality Wavy Gravy (best known for the Woodstock movie), as well as friends, musicians, directors, and others who provide insight into the man and his life and career.

“Tiptoe Through The Tulips” was actually a hit song from 1929, and Tiny Tim reinvented it as a novelty song – and we see the clip of him performing it in 1968 for a national audience on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”. Yankovic reads passages from Tiny Tim’s diary, and we gain perspective on what it’s like to go through life as a “freak.” From the diary we learn, “God told me to sing the sissy way,” and that was evidently his motivation for using the falsetto…allowing him to be billed as “The Human Canary” early on. His first album, “God Bless Tiny Tim,” was released in 1968, but it was the following year that caused the biggest splash. In December 1969, Tiny Tim married 17-year-old Miss Vicki Budinger live on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” and 45 million viewers tuned in.

Born in New York as Herbert Butros Khaury, he was focused at an early age on being famous – on making an impact. Carrying a shopping bag on stage and pulling out a ukulele, Tiny Tim crafted a stage persona that took over his life. Of course, the thing about fame is that it’s often fleeting. Director von Sydow pulls much of the story from the biography, Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim, by Justin Martell and Alanna Wray Mcdonald. Sure, there’s the photo by Diane Arbus, but there’s also the mob control and gigs with the traveling circus. In 1995, he married lifelong fan, Susan Gardner. This was the year before his death, and we see the clip of when he suffered a heart attack while performing onstage, just prior to his final collapse a few months later. How can so much sadness come from a man who entertained so many? We are reminded of the song, “Tears of a Clown,” yet when one’s goal is fame, the piper must be paid.