For most people, young or old, there is an instant recognition when you say the name, “Tiny Tim”. Yes, some people may think of the poor little crippled boy from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but I bet most would immediately jump to the long haired, long nosed, ukulele and shopping bag toting enigma that is Herbert Butros Khaury. Famously infamous… and infamously famous – though most people can’t exactly pinpoint why, or more importantly, when he rose to the top. TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY is a ferris wheel of bright colors and deep darkness – up and down and up again – taking us on the ride of Tiny Tim’s life.

Herbert Khaury was born in New York in 1932 to immigrant parents – a Russian Jewish mother, and a Lebanese Christian father – a combination I can only fathom in the darkest and grittiest corners of my mind. Herbert’s life was just that – gritty, raw. His parents didn’t keep a door on their bedroom, and he had to pass theirs to get to his room. He couldn’t go to his own safe space without being exposed to the most intimate pieces of his parents’ private life. And even from the safety of his room, the walls were thin. He was constantly surrounded by “others”… and yet felt the most “other” of them all. His answer was to play records at high volume in his room – anything he could get his hands on. Hits of the 30s and 40s, novelty albums – literally anything to drown out the noise. This is where Herbert’s love of music and penchant for the weird began, and thus was born an icon.

Herbert made his way via circuses and freak shows, trying a few names before developing the persona of “Tiny Tim” – ironic, as he was booked with a midget freakshow act, and he himself was 6’1’’. He says he literally prayed for a high falsetto voice, and one day woke up with the new talent. He knew, he said, that this would be his claim to fame. When he made his way to Hollywood in the late sixties, he appeared in a few small films, one of which, You Are What You Eat, featured him singing Cher’s part of “I Got You Babe” in his signature high soprano, while Eleanor Barooshian sang Sonny’s part in baritone. This performance got him booked on his first television show – Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. He was an instant sensation – getting more letters than any other performer – a trait that followed him as he made his way to Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan. Instantly, his star rose to epic proportions. What is remarkably clear in this documentary is that even to us as outsiders, we aren’t sure if the fame and fortune was real or almost pitying – was Hollywood just turning him into another kind of freakshow act? Tiny Tim didn’t care – he wanted fame and he had it.

A rollercoaster life ensues for Tiny Tim – getting married on the Tonight Show, having a child, getting divorced in a rather ugly and public fashion, marrying again this time only for a month – on and on. His legal troubles mounting as his unconventional behavior got him into some deep trouble – lewd phone calls and letters with underage girls are discussed between Tiny’s best friend and widow, as they both shake their heads and laugh. “Oh Tiny,” his widow, Sue, sighs. His fame crashes down around his ears – and he spends the last two decades of his career trying to regain the rush of the first. Unfortunately, this lands him back where he began. Elk Lodges. Freakshows. Circuses. Dinner Theatres. And ultimately, Tiny gave his final performance at a benefit for a Women’s Club in Minneapolis, and it was there on that stage that he’d take his last breath. A life lived in stark spotlight, to the bitter end.

TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY is an immensely sad, incredibly raw portrait of a man with more flaws and demons than most of us would be brave enough to face. Tiny’s eternal smile shines through behind his dark, tortured eyes. Riddled with paranoia, abused by his violent mother, and judged and ridiculed everywhere he turned, somehow Tiny turned his queerness into something bankable, and something remarkable. In a beautiful and sad turn, this documentary doesn’t paint Tiny to be a hero – and it doesn’t paint him to be a villain either. It’s instead a truthful, stark retelling of the life of a man who was broken. Gorgeous animated interstitials, presented in black and white, help to fill in the pieces of the story not caught on film, as “Weird Al” Yankovic narrates directly from the diaries of Tiny Tim. Weird Al doesn’t provide a caricature of Tiny – and instead gives his words the gravitas and heart they desperately deserve. A tribute to a queer, and battle weary troubadour- TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY doesn’t pretend he is anything he wasn’t. Moments of lecherous behavior, deep sorrow, religious paranoia, psychological and emotional disturbance – these are all part of the paintbox that made that white faced, rosy cheeked jester we all came to know and love.

8/10 stars

 

TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY
RATING:NR
Runtime:1 Hr. 25 Mins.
Directed By:
Johan Von Sydow
Written By:
Johan Von Sydow