By Ken Zurski
Herbert Buckingham Khaury didn’t come from a musical family.
His parents, both immigrants, worked in textile factories. But even at an early age Herbert knew he could sing, especially a high falsetto. “It just seemed more natural to me,” he later explained in an interview.
In 1962, Khaury adopted a stage name, Tiny Tim. The moniker stuck after others like Justin Foxglove did not. Tim’s first big break came on the popular TV variety show Laugh-In. Tim sang “On The Goodship Lollipop” while strumming a ukulele. The audience was stunned. It wasn’t just his singing, which was unique enough, but his appearance – long shaggy hair, a beak nose and shocking plaid suit.
The performance drew a mixed, mostly negative, response.
It got better.
Tim gained a following as a regular on the Tonight Show. In 1968, his only hit, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” a remake of a song from the 1920’s, reached #17 on the pop charts.
His popularity waned In the 70’s, but Tim continued to perform right up to his death in 1996 at the age of 64. After suffering a heart attack earlier that year, Tim refused to follow doctor’s advice to slow down. Several weeks later, while finishing a performance of “Tulips,” he collapsed on stage and never recovered
“The last thing he heard was applause.” his third wife and widow explained. “He went out happy.”
By Ken Zurski
In 1902, a Standardbred racer named Prince Alert became the first “hobbled” horse to pace a mile in under two-minutes, a benchmark that harness horses break today in nearly every race. But times have changed, and horses run faster today thanks to advancements in breeding and training. However, in Prince Alert’s time, breaking a two-minute mile was a big deal indeed.
Also being “hobbled” didn’t mean that Prince Alert was limp or disabled. It meant he wore hobbles or leather straps on its legs to help maintain a smooth gait.
Prince Alert was considered the ‘Undisputed King of Hobbled Pacers,” but wearing the straps also carried a tag in the horse’s record. Other horses were winning big races without “hobbles,” including one of the greatest Dan Patch, who is considered even to this day as the most popular race horse of all time.
That’s because at the turn of the 20th century, harness racing was the country’s most popular sport and Dan Patch was its undisputed star. Patch captured a nation with his rags to riches story and his uncanny ability to win, a lot, wherever he went and on any number of off-surface, in the middle of nowhere, tracks. Where Dan Patch went, large crowds followed. Soon, his likeness appeared on everything from cereal to cigar boxes to washing machines. He was, as one writer noted, “the first celebrity endorser.” By default horses that ran against Patch also became news, like Prince Alert, who wore the hobbles, while Patch did not.
But Prince Alert’s legacy is different than Patch’s in this regard:
Prince Alert was a “hop horse.”
In today’s lexicon a “hop horse” or a horse who is “hopped up” means they were deliberately doped to win. Back then, this affirmation didn’t come with the same stigma as it does in today’s era of synthetic performance enhancers. In the early 20th century, “hopping” a horse meant something else entirely. Mainly the use of stimulants like alcohol or caffeine to boost a horse’s confidence or endurance.
In Prince Alert’s case, it wasn’t even a secret. Alert’s trainer Matt Demarest openly acknowledged giving his horse “extra strong coffee and whiskey” to beat the great Dan Patch. “If I thought the horse would be improved by champagne,” he told the Chicago Tribune,” I would see he got it.”
In the end, however, it was Dan Patch who got the last laugh. Not only did he soundly defeat horses like Prince Alert, but the irony in victory was farcical.
Even if the horses were “hopped up” on whiskey, as many apparently were, it was Dan Patch, the horse and the brand, that was featured on the bottle’s label.
By Ken Zurski
A veteran of stage and screen, Billie Burke began her Broadway and film acting career in 1906 at the age of 22. She appeared in numerous stage and screen roles (silent films) and in 1914 married another show business impresario , Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr, of Zeigfeld Follies fame.
In 1921, Burke retired from performing thanks to a boon in the stock market and good investments. However, in 1929 after the Black October crash, the money was gone and Burke went back to work appearing with many top Hollywood heavyweights like Lionel Barrymore whom she co-starred in the most acclaimed and defining role of her career: Millicent Jordan, the “hapless, feather-brained lady with the unmistakably high voice,” in 1933’s “Dinner at Eight.”
Although it wasn’t her last appearance in the movies, in 1939, at the age of 54, Burke played a character for which she is most remembered today, appearing alongside newcomer Judy Garland, as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in “The Wizard of Oz.”
By Ken Zurski
On July 4, 1900, at the newly opened World’s Fair in Paris, France, after another rousing rendition of “The Stars and Striped Forever,”conductor John Philip Sousa and several of his band members donned a baggy pair of trousers, hat and glove and went out to play an exhibition game of baseball.
Sousa. known as the “March King” at the time for his inspiring and mostly patriotic musical marches, was in Europe for an extended concert tour, the first ever for a band its size.
But like music, Sousa also had a passion for baseball. So he formed a team.
Sousa was said to be in excellent pitcher and started most games on the mound. He threw competitively until his skills waned with age. “If baseball has a drawback,” he once wrote, “it is the early time of life at which the player is forced to retire and give way to younger blood.”
Back home in America, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis took advantage of Sousa’s love for baseball and asked him to compose a march for the 50th anniversary of the National League. In 1925, Sousa delivered with the composition called “The National Game.” He dedicated it to the sport.
However, despite the connection to Sousa, even today the song is not well known or as widely played as other tunes associated with baseball, like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
In fact, sadly Sousa’s baseball march is mostly forgotten.
But it was not a song, but a day, July 4, 1900, that Sousa remembers the most.
That day in Paris, Sousa and the band’s team played “a group of nines” from the American Guards. “What could have been more appropriate for two American organizations in a foreign land to do on the glorious Fourth?” Sousa proudly proclaimed about that particular game.
By Ken Zurski
In 1891, Charles Colville, secretary for the Lord Frederick Stanley, the British appointed General Governor of Canada, was ordered to sail back to England and return with a handpicked ornament.
Stanley had something particular in mind and Colville knew just where to look.
On Regent Street near Piccadilly Circus, he stepped into the shop of George Richmond and Collis Co. and spotted a “silver bowl lined with a gold gilt interior.” Colville bought the bowl for 10 guineas, the equivalent of about 10-thousand U.S. dollars today.
Stanley was ambivalent at first. “It looks like any other trophy,” he remarked, but overall pleased.
In 1893, the first Stanley Cup, as it was called, was awarded to Montreal, the champions of the Ontario Hockey Association. Stanley, a big hockey supporter, offered the trophy as a gift. His team, however, was Ottawa and the animosity between the two teams was apparent.
When Montreal was awarded the inaugural cup bearing Stanley’s name, only a few players were on hand and no Montreal team officials bothered to show up.