Friday, January 20, 2012

A Tiny Leaf Fan

A number of teams in professional sports have celebrity fans who can't stand to miss a minute of action when their favourite team engages in competition.

In the case of film director Woody Allen, it has been documented he would request actors pick-up their pace during shooting. All Allen would tell them is the New York Knicks are playing at 8:00pm.

Allen, in his early movies, would even write scenes where his beloved Knicks become part of the story. In one script, Allen is attending a house party given by a friend. After making the rounds, his character discretely vanishes to a quiet bedroom. Instead of spending time with those gathered for the occasion, he sits on the bed watching the Knicks play on TV.

In the early 1940s, after seeing his first hockey game, a seed was planted for a future celebrity to become an ardent fan of a National Hockey League franchise. Born in New York, you would think the Rangers were the team which interested the new fan. It was not to be.

The Original Six team lighting a spark under Herbert Khaury was the Toronto Maple Leafs. Okay, so you don't know who Khaury is. You probably will recognize his stage name - Tiny Tim.

Noted for his appearance - a tall lanky individual with a large nose, frizzy long locks and loud colourful apparel - Tiny Tim became part of the celebrity culture in the 1960s. His act incorporated vintage vaudeville songs and a ukulele. Tiny Tim's voice, described as being "high falsetto" by a music reviewer, is what grabbed the attention of those taking in his performance. His version of "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips" became an instant hit.

After getting some notice in the New York music scene, Tiny Tim was ready for the national stage. His TV work included guest-spots on Laugh-In, Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason shows. His most noted TV appearance came on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.

On the evening of December 17, 1969, the singer (at the time in his late 30s or early 40s, the exact year of his birth being a mystery) married his 17-year-old bride Miss Vicki, with a national TV audience as wedding guests.

Just how did this odd-character come to admire the Leafs? "I wanted to have a team so I looked at the standings in the newspaper and there were six teams to pick from. The Toronto Maple Leafs were third or fourth then, which was in the early 1940s. Maple reminded me of maple syrup and leafs reminded me of tree leaves, and it all reminded me of nature, and I like that, so I chose them," Tiny Tim told writer Bill Libby in a 1969 interview.

With the passing of time, he became more and more engrossed. Tiny Tim would follow the team via Foster Hewitt's broadcasts which could be picked-up over the New York radio airways.

Attending Leaf games when they visited Madison Square Garden to play the Rangers, Tiny Tim stood out like a rotten tomato. If Toronto was winning, he would often be chased out of the Garden by angry and disgruntled New York fans.

Down the road, as he became well-known and his celebrity status grew, Tiny Tim started sending Leafs coach and general manger Punch Imlach letters and telegrams. He wasn't shy in lending a helping hand to the Toronto boss. In his piece, Libby provided some insight on the nature of Tiny Tim's correspondence.

When Imlach traded forward Jim Pappin, Tiny Tim fired-off the following dispatch to Imlach, "No Pappin, no playoffs." The four-time Stanley Cup champion, Imlach, and the darling of American pop-culture, Tiny Tim, would eventually come face-to-face. Imlach surprised Tiny Tim while he was being interviewed for a Hockey Night in Canada segment.

Tiny Tim passed away in 1996 after suffering a second heart attack (his first came in September, followed by another in late November). He went out doing what he liked best. He died several hours after thrilling his Minneapolis fan base with a final dose of "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips".

Also, checking-out as a lifelong fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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