Although I genuinely disliked most nightclubs, the Scene on 8th Avenue and West 46th Street, came to be one of my favourite watering holes in New York. Steve Paul, the enterprising 23- year-old owner, was determined to make his basement club the most important music venue in the city. Steve lived like a pauper most nights, sleeping rough on friends’ couches, even though money appeared to be plentiful. He was constantly flying off to Seattle, Los Angeles or London to find new bands, offer to be their manager and invite them to play at the Scene.
One night I was sitting in the club with my friends, Sarah and her brother, the pop journalist David Dalton, when I decided to ask Steve how, without a job and at his young age, he could afford to be jetting off to all these places.
“You must have wealthy parents who support you?” I ventured.
Steve shook his head. “Nice try. But no, Caroline.“ He smiled. “It’s Orange Julius,” he added simply.
We all leaned forward at this point.
“What do you mean, Orange Julius?” I asked.
“Orange Julius. You know, the new drink? I discovered it. I made up the recipe!”
He sounded serious but his reply seemed so preposterous we weren’t quite sure whether he was joking or not. In less than two years Orange Julius had literally flooded the United States becoming the nation’s favourite fruit drink. Supermarkets sold it in large, medium and small cartons. Franchises for Orange Julius counters were being sold in every State from New York to California. And posters advertising Orange Julius were popping up on hoardings all over the country. If, indeed, Steve had dreamed up the recipe and patented it, he must have been an extremely shrewd businessman, not to mention an exceedingly wealthy young man. If, however, he was the product of a rich family he never admitted it, not even to us. And, to this day, I don’t know if he was telling the truth, trying to impress us, disowning a privileged background or, simply, pulling our legs. Strange as it may seem, it still intrigues me.
But of one thing there was absolutely no doubt. Steve was a force to be reckoned with in the New York music world. Many groups he approached didn’t hesitate to ask him to be their manager. It was evident, even in those early days that Steve Paul was one of those rare and fortunate individuals who, for no apparent reason, seemed to have a Midas touch when it came to identifying musical talent.
Many musicians, hoping to be discovered, wanted that touch to rub off on them. Even widely known artists and bands, such as the Velvet Underground, the Progressive Blues Experiment, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Rick Derringer, Duane Allman, Frank Zappa and the exceptional “white” blues guitarist Johnny Winter, all accepted Steve’s invitation to play at the Scene. Despite strong competition from other music venues over the years, the Scene grew in reputation, popularity and strength.
By the late 60’s, long after I’d skipped town, it had more than fulfilled Steve’s wishes and was, without doubt, the foremost music club in Manhattan. Sadly, the very success of the club led to its premature demise at the height of its fame. Rumour has it that the mob wanted a piece of the action,
Years later Sarah wrote to me: “Remember Teddy? The lovely maitre d’? He had his legs broken and, rather than give in to the Mafia’s bullying tactics, Steve reluctantly decided to close the Scene down. ”
Then, after years of sleeping on friends’ couches, Steve Paul, the entrepreneur with the magic touch, retreated to his new home – Rita Hayworth’s rambling estate in Connecticut.
He told Sarah recently, “In those days you didn’t need money. You didn’t need anything. I slept on peoples’ couches. Today, it ’s different. It’s into the bunkers.” Smiling he swept his arms around the vast living room boasting walk-in fireplaces on either end, “And now, twenty years later, I find I need all this!”
One of Steve’s earliest, and most unlikely, discoveries at the Scene was Herbert Kaury, alias Vernon Castle, alias Emmett Swink, alias Danny Dover, alias Rollie Dell and, now, alias Larry Love “The Singing Canary”. But even Steve, with his innate sense of success, did not immediately recognize Larry Love’s unique appeal. Sarah had already heard Love in some smaller clubs in Greenwich Village and had begged me and David to go with her.
“You’ve got to check him out,”.she giggled, “You won’t believe your eyes and your ears! “
She was right about that.
So, once again, Sarah, David and I descended on the Scene, this time with Larry Love in tow. During a break in the evening’s entertainment, Sarah asked him if he would get up and sing a solo for us. In fact, encouraged by Sarah, Larry had brought his ukelele with him in the vain hope he might be invited to play at the Scene. He looked pleadingly at Steve who shrugged his shoulders.
“Go on, Steve,” Sarah begged, “please let him!” David and I joined in, eager to experience this weird singing phenomenon once again. Steve, who had a soft spot for the two decorative English girls who frequented his club, didn’t need much convincing.
“OK, I guess. Why not? What the hell?” Steve ushered Larry towards the microphone. “What’s your name again?” he asked.
“Tiny Tim!” Larry answered, without hesitating.
“Excuse me?” Steve looked surprised, “I thought you said….”
“Tiny Tim!” Larry repeated quietly but firmly.
Looking nonplussed, Steve tapped the microphone. “All you folks here tonight, please welcome Tiny Tim!” he announced.
The tall, gangly figure of Herbert Kaury’s latest incarnation rose from his seat, tossed his long curly chestnut tresses away from his face and picked up his ukelele.
“Excuse me, Miss Sarah. Excuse me, Miss Caroline,” he whispered politely as he left the table and walked to the front. Then, in a falsetto voice that would later become his trademark all over the world, he sang, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”
When he finished he looked towards Sarah and me and, with his long manicured fingers, blew us kisses.
“That was for my very special friends, Miss Sarah and Miss Caroline, thank you both,” he announced to the astonished crowd, who stood rooted to the spot, not quite sure what to make of the performance they’d just witnessed.
And thus, Herbert Kaury’s latest alias, Tiny Tim, was born. I was speechless, little guessing that within three years “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” would echo across the world earning the singer a platinum disc.
The effect of this extraordinary entertainer on the audience that night was indescribable. Probably for the first time in its, so far, brief but explosive history, the Scene was completely hushed, whether out of sheer disbelief, amazement or respect I shall never know. But, by the time the song was over, Steve Paul, the music entrepreneur, certainly knew. From the audience’s reaction, Steve immediately sensed Tiny Tim was going to be a big, big star. And from that night on, Steve became his manager and Tiny Tim became a regular at the Club.
And as the Scene’s reputation grew, so did Tiny Tim’s. People from all over New York would come to listen to him, in amazement, in amusement or in rapture. Why they came in such numbers didn’t matter to either Steve or Tiny Tim. All that mattered was that they came. From swank uptown restaurants and clubs, such as Le Club owned and run by Oleg and Igor Cassini, or the smart El Morocco nightclub frequented by New York’s top “400”, or the fashionable Four Seasons to downtown Greenwich Village bars, nightspots and cafes, people from all backgrounds and from all social levels made the nightly pilgrimage to the windowless cellar on West 46th to listen enthralled to the weird and wonderful phenomenon that was Tiny Tim.
Most were turned away disappointed. The basement venue was so small it was unable to accommodate the large numbers of eager fans lining up on the sidewalk outside. Recently Sarah and I reminisced over those early days.
“You, David and I were the lucky ones, “ she said. “ We were so privileged. Steve would always let us in. But most people were turned away at the door.”
One evening, following a somewhat dreary uptown dinner party, I even managed to drag a reluctant Joe down there with our friends New York Senator Jacob Javits and his wife, the irrepressible Marion, and out-of-towners Governor Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma, British actor Bill Travers and Irish writer Conor Cruise O’Brien. Despite all their initial protests, they were later forced to admit that a live performance by Tiny Tim was an experience not to be missed.
“Come on, Jack,” I whispered to the Senator during the performance, “enjoy it! After all I sat through your son’s reading of the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah last week and even managed to have some fun!”
The Senator gave me one of his illuminating beams, his face cracking open from ear to ear. “I am enjoying it, my dear sweet girl,” he whispered back, “didn’t you hear me humming along?”
Steve soon realized Tiny Tim was an asset to the Club in many other ways. He enjoyed meeting people and talking about his life, his religious beliefs and his long and rocky career as an entertainer. He had endless stories about the successes and failures of each of his previous incarnations. He had stories about his Polish family’s struggle for survival. And he had hilarious anecdotes about his own hygiene and beauty programmes, which involved, among other things, manicuring his nails, splattering cologne over his face, brushing his teeth with goat ’s milk and taking a shower several times a day. If Tiny Tim looked like a beatnik straight out of a Jack Kerouac novel, he certainly never smelt like one. Most nights he reeked of Elizabeth Arden’s Blue Grass but, occasionally, he’d try something a little more adventurous such as Jean Patou, which always reminded me of my Jugoslav grandmother.
The sheer novelty of a performer like Tiny Tim had struck a chord with New Yorkers. Here was a clean living individual (he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t take drugs and I doubt if he even had sex) with old-fashioned values, jealously guarded principles and quaint codes of behaviour. He was quiet-spoken, polite, unassuming and gentle. To jaded New Yorkers, used to the brash, spoilt and, often, uncouth conduct of their pop stars, Tiny Tim was, like the old-fashioned songs he sang, a breath of fresh air from a bygone era.
Finally. the Press got to hear about this phenomenon. And, by 1968, just three years later when I was travelling alone across the vast icy plains of Siberia, Tiny Tim was whisked off to appear before millions of Americans on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. This was immediately followed by offers of recording contracts, club bookings and concert spots around the world. At the age of 45, or thereabouts, Tiny Tim, as Steve Paul had accurately predicted, had finally made the big time.