Monday, July 6, 2009

Tubby Boots - Out of This World


I thought I'd re-post this. Sometimes stuff gets lost in the archives never to be noticed again. I had to remove this from a different site a long time ago due to "legal reasons," but it was a bit of work to research. Time to revisit Tubby Boots!


Obese, often tasseled and prone to streaking, Charles 'Tubby' Boots was a one man vaudevillian sexual revolution. The comedian stands alone as a wild eccentric who performed profane, occasionally hackneyed, and often very jiggly, physical comedy in after hours clubs, burlesque houses, state fairs, traveling road shows, cruise ships, race tracks and Coney Island. A close confidant of the equally eccentric Lord Buckley, drinking partner of the roly-poly insult comic Jack E. Leonard and a pain in the side for many conservative Bennett Cerf types at showbiz parties, Tubby Boots was the gay beatnik who could have passed as your uncle. Marquees billed the 375 pound comic as "Tons of Fun." Tubby Boots is topless above for a reason. He was a performer who, as you can see, would grab the attention of any audience before saying a word. Taking to the stage in the form we see on this LP, immediately hypnotized a crowd. He often dared patrons in the front row to grab his "titties." He was a common master of ceremonies on the burlesque circuit of the nineteen fifties. He occasionally wore the same type of tassels that many of the beautiful women on any given bill sported and regularly pulled the stunt of twirling them simultaneously in opposite directions. Believe it or not, he's only twenty-six years old in this photo.

Tubby's parents were a vaudevillian dance team called Boots and Barton. At the age of seven this youngster was clocking in at an astounding two hundred pounds, a constant target of ridicule in his Baltimore schoolyard. According to AWARE, the progressive 1970s publication devoted to gay arts, the look of the character Tubby in Little Lulu comics was based on Tubby Boots as a child. This, however, has not been substantiated by any of the artists involved with the character and is perhaps an attempt by Boots to build his legend. Little Lulu was initially a single panel comic done by Marjorie Henderson Buell for The Saturday Evening Post from 1935 to 1944. Following that streak it was expanded into a brilliant and hilarious Dell comic book executed by masters of the comic art form John Stanley and Irving Tripp.

Tubby_dell_comic During his childhood, Tubby managed to witness a performance by comedy's greatest cult icon, Lord Buckley. In the fantasyland of show business he found solace from the school kids he could not relate to. Tubby Boots recalled shortly before his death, "[Lord Buckley] was like a father figure to me. I met Buckley when I was seven years old when I was working at the Hippodrome in Baltimore, Maryland, and I was in awe of him. I saw his act every time he would come back to play the theater ... I would sit in the theater all day and watch the shows. I'd stay out of school for the whole week - my mother would pack me a lunch - she knew what I was doing because I wanted to learn about show business. Buckley would do his hat-switching act. Every other show he would get me to do it with him. I'd hang out with him backstage, we'd go out for lunch or dinner, he'd sneak me back into the theater and I'd watch the whole stage show again. I started working nightclubs when I was eleven. I weighed 250 pounds and passed myself off as twenty-one. I got arrested in a strip joint and the police said: 'We're not going to throw you in jail but you're not going to work in this town again - you're too notorious.' So they actually put me on a train and said 'Where you wanna ticket to?' I said, 'New York.' I didn't run away - I was forced to leave. So when I got to New York I called Buckley and, pretending to sob, said, 'My mama died in a car crash...my father was with her...' Unbeknownst to me, he called my mother and told her, 'He's with me.' So he got me a job at The Three Deuces, passing me off as twenty-one." The Three Deuces was one of Manhattan's major jazz holes in the thirties and forties, regularly featuring Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Lord Buckley was connected to the jazz world for most of his career, performing in their clubs and utilizing a great deal of the Black hipster vernacular in his act. 


It was through these connections that Boots first discovered the Manhattan Burlesque world of the nineteen forties, an environment where he would find his first paying jobs, not as a dancer, but as a master of ceremonies. Generally speaking, it didn't matter who was hosting, as everyone was there to see the girls. Amateurs could find stage time fairly easy and could seriously suck without any real retribution. Over time, amateurs like Tubby Boots could polish their act and learn how to captivate a crowd, especially a tough audience that was merely concerned with scantily clad women.

Burlesque_creep_3 Tubby toured with Prell's Broadway Shows, a traveling carnival that supposedly gave small town crowds a taste of big city life. It toured across America during the sunny seasons with stops at mainstay events like The Allentown and Bloomsburg Fairs, both in Pennsylvania. Prell's brought along seventy-five rides and all kinds of exhibitions including boxing matches, sideshow freaks and the Tubby hosted Burlesque acts. Tubby learned how to appropriately warm-up and maintain an audience's attention and excitement through the grueling schedule of a carnival comedian. Several shows were done each day for several months in a row. By the time the fair season was done, he was a polished and professional act that became the go-to comic to host burlesque shows during the winter seasons in Manhattan. Boots maintained a relationship with The Streamlined Follies, an organization known for its anomalous and more revealing than usual performers. One of their stars was a woman named Tirza.
Tirza the Wine Bath Girl was a successful novelty in her day, peeling as she danced through a fountain, perhaps giving birth to today's hokey strip-club fodder of on-stage showers. She was also, more often than not, the headliner on a show that Tubby Boots was hosting. Tirza the Wine Bath Girl was the daughter of a successful Ziegfeld chorus girl, a gig that was, arguably, the direct predecessor of burlesque. The contraption she used was encased within a circular shower curtain with a lit platform in the middle. Water shot up from below during the act. Initially club owners complained that the patrons in the back could not see the water at all, making her act rather confusing. This was solved by Tirza's idea to replace the spraying water with red wine - hence her stage name.
In the nineteen fifties Lord Buckley and Tubby Boots became roommates, first in Manhattan and later, in the Hollywood Hills. Buckley was suffering financially as he had and would for most of his career. At one point, to try and make money, he appeared as a contestant on the Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life

According to one account, Buckley was reading the entertainment trade papers and saw the headline, "Tubby Boots - Packing Them In in Cleveland." Buckley was well aware of Tubby's fawning love for his Lordship. He phoned Tubby Boots and told him to come to Los Angeles immediately because he had a part for him in a movie. It was actually just a way to get him to Hollywood to help out with the rent. Tubby Boots described the decor of their dwelling in the book Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley by Oliver Trager (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2001). "We had several paintings on the wall ... One was of Jesus Christ... autographed. 'To Lord Buckley, from your buddy cat J.C."
Lord_buckley_on_beany_and_cecil_2 Lord Buckley was now releasing comedy albums on translucent red vinyl for the Pacific Jazz label and donating his unique voice to Beany & Cecil cartoons (watch that here). Boots continued making his money in the burlesque scene, unable to branch out into the world of television. Many of the burlesque dancers ended up at the ridiculous tea parties that Buckley was notorious for throwing. Tubby acted as doorman, dawning a French maid's outfit and holding a feather duster. Lord Buckley had a penchant for dubbing those who he was fond of with royal monickers and Tubby became affectionately known as Princess Lily. "He used to call me Princess Lily but Prince Charles of Booth was my title. Buckley used to say: 'Lil! You had the misfortune to be born with the beautiful body of a woman in the ridiculous body of a man!"


In 1959 Boots moved to Miami Beach after a bizarre incident that left his enormous body largely burned. Dick Zalud and Millie Vernon, jazz musicians from the era recalled what happened in a 1996 interview with Michael Montelone.
Millie Vernon: [Tubby Boots] was working ... He always worked and he had to take a bath [before] going to the job. And he was like, very, very fat. And...
Dick Zalud: Hardly could get in and out of the tub.
MV: Yeah, it was a very small tub. And the plumbing controls were in the kitchen.
DZ: Hot water and the cold water was in the kitchen.
MV: The tub was in the bathroom.
DZ: You'd have to go into the kitchen to turn on the water for the tub in the bathroom.
MV: So, Tubby got into the tub and said, "Okay." And Buckley was out there with the controls. And he put on the hot water, steaming.
DZ: I mean steaming, really...
MV: Really scalding water.
DZ: Burnt the shit out of him.
MV: All of a sudden, Tubby was screaming ... "Get me out!" He couldn't get out. And he said, "I'm burning! I'm burning! I'm burning! Help! Help!" ... [Lord Buckley] turns it off, he ran in, he got him out but, his whole body, like, he was really burnt. And [Lord Buckley] had to call the ambulance.
DZ: He had to go to the hospital.
MV: He had burns and he was in the hospital a week or so. And Buckley was coming up everyday [and saying], "Oh, my God. I feel so terrible." And at the end of the hospital stay Tubby went to pay the bill [and] they said, "No, it's all taken care of."
DZ: The bill was taken care of and there were two tickets there, there was a ticket there for him to fly to Miami to rest and recuperate ... In the meantime Buckley got a hold of the landlord and told him what happened and said he was going to sue his ass. So the landlord said, "No, well, look don't, let's settle this out of court." And Buckley made about three thousand dollars on the deal. And Boots never knew how he ... could afford to send him to Florida.
 MV: And then when [Tubby Boots] found out he got very angry ... and he just stopped talking to [Lord Buckley] for two or three years.
Tubby_boots_lp2 Tubby's account varies slightly. "I was soaking in the tub at Buckley's Seventy-first Street pad reading the Journal-American. I loosened the hot water spigot with my foot when it suddenly became undone and scalded me bad enough to land me in Bellevue Hospital. Now every day I received a telegram ... 'We miss your sunshine at the castle. Please get well, Prince Charles. Love Lord Buckley ...' And every day Buckley would come and bring me a box of candy. And I'd say, 'Isn't that nice?' I turned on the television one day and he was doing a quiz program called Play Ball and the sponsor was the same candy company." According to Boots he wasn't mad at Buckley after the incident. "I never resented any of it because I got back more [from him] than I gave. I learned about life. My whole worldview was formed [in the Buckley days]." Also according to Boots, he did not move to Miami after this incident. He remained on the East Coast while Buckley moved to Hollywood. "When [Buckley] moved to the West Coast we began to drift apart. A few years passed since we'd been in contact and I made the mistake of calling him. I figured it had been a long time between. Why hold a grudge? The minute he hears me, 'Ah, Prince Charles, so beautiful to hear your voice. I felt so bad about what I did to you ... I must make it up to you. I have a beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills; I just made a motion picture. Come out here and stay.' So I give up my job, which was paying me $750 a week working in a nightclub and doing a radio show ... I walked in the door ... Buckley is on the phone saying 'I have an act for you. My God, he's fabulous. Oh, he sings and dances and does comedy. He could open tonight. One hundred and twenty-five? Sold!' I had just given up $750 a week to come to California to live in the lap of luxury and this bastard is on the phone selling me for $125." Tubby stayed a short while and then jetted for Florida.



Miami Beach was the strange resort community where the old fashioned remained cutting edge. MB wasn't the place where Yiddish Catskill acts went to die, but where they went to live on for several more years, supported by a large community of Jewish retirees. Tubby Boots was now a regular not at The Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas like comedy royalty, but instead at The Dunes Motel in Miami Beach... like comedy toilety. The Dunes was built in 1955 and was the epitome of nineteen fifties resort kitsch, most of which has been destroyed by hungry, greed-mad developers. Some of the resorts built in the twenties and thirties, however, are protected with heritage status. Miami Beach's "Art Deco District" contains the highest concentration of surviving Art Deco hotel architecture in America. Many areas in South Florida are still ripe with ancient neon and classic signs. Comedian Woody Woodbury was based in Fort Lauderdale for most of his career and described the hotel and nightclubs of the era. "[The] Space Satellite Motel was a large circular bar and [the performers were] propped up in the middle of it. Las Vegas stole everything from Florida when it came to building cocktail lounges. There was a huge entertainment scene [in Florida] at the time. [It was] unbelievable." The campy 1968 private eye caper Tony Rome starring Frank Sinatra takes place in the area and captures the era well - including appearances by Miami Beach nightclub regulars Shecky Greene and Joe E. Ross. The Dunes Motel featured two large heated swimming pools with free Esther Williams-esque (Esther-esque?) water shows, a solarium, shuffleboard courts, beauty salons, sundry shops, and dance lessons. It also featured Tubby Boots for years.


Tubby was also a regular in a motel club down the street called The Aztec, named perhaps for its roster of performers and their audience who looked like they had been mummified. The Monaco Motel was yet another top spot for tourists to bed situated a short walk away, featuring a steady dose of Boots. Other headliners included Jackie Mason, Charlie Callas and Tubby's fellow "Adults Only" act, The Richie Brothers. The Richie Brothers were a three-man comedy team under contract to the Jubilee label, the record company made famous by their star attractions, Rusty Warren and Kermit Schaffer's Pardon My Blooper series. One of The Richie Brothers' two LPs was recorded live at Miami Beach's Thunderbird Motel in, as the liner notes describe, The Pow Wow Room. It seems that Jubilee had a penchant for scouting the sunbelt motels for cheapo lounge comedy.

Jubilee never got around to releasing Tubby's act but he would have been a good fit. Jubilee had an eclectic roster. Famous Harlem politician Adam Clayton Powell's LP Keep the Faith, Baby! was on Jubilee as were comedy records from Professor Irwin Corey, deadpan master Jackie Vernon and the only known recording of Larry Storch's (F-Troop) nightclub act. Jubilee pressed two records from the man who most consider the inventor of the Ed Sullivan impression, Will Jordan. They also gave us the short-lived stand-up act of reactionary country music songsmith Autry Inman. Some of the other comedians on the label who you (and probably their families) have never heard of are Lee Tully (with cover art by Mort Drucker), Roy Awbrey, Don Sherman (who also recorded marijuana themed comedy albums for Laff), Peter Wood, Martha Wright (on red vinyl), J.B. Kling Jr, Bernie Gould, Bernie Berns, Steve Karmen, Effie Smith, Saucy Sylvia Stoun and The Barton Brothers (no known relation to Tubby Boots' parental vaudeville team). 
Tubby_8track_2 Tubby's most enduring and worthwhile endeavors were his comedy albums. Tubby Boots Goes Topless was by far his biggest seller and today, his most common. The LP is a recording of his Miami Beach nightclub act and was on sale at all of his gigs during the height of his fame, 1959-1965. The rarest copies are those that are not autographed. Other records followed including Tubby Boots Sings, Thin May Be In-But Fat's Where It's At and Tubby Boots Out of This World. Just as only autographed copies of Tubby Goes Topless seem to exist, I have not seen any copies of Out of This World that are in any format other than 8-track. Like I said at the start, Tubby was an eccentric guy.
The nineteen sixties were a sensational period for Boots with sold-out shows, fine record sales and even his first and last national television appearance on the biggest possible show of the time, The Jack Paar Show. Footage of that gig is assumed to have long since been destroyed. Tubby continued to be a major draw in Miami Beach for the rest of the decade and all through the nineteen seventies.
When the comedy club explosion of the nineteen eighties hit, Tubby Boots' career enjoyed a second lease. Literally hundreds of clubs populated the interstates of America and they all needed performers. With so much demand for acts to fill the excess of venues, quality was not a concern. There were only a handful of professional headliners available for several hundred clubs. Tubby Boots had more experience than almost anybody else doing the circuit, and he was able to work nightly any where in America for the first time in years. 
In this age of the internet, it isn't often that I come up completely empty when it comes to finding video or audio of a show business figure. Unfortunately, in the case of Tubby I have found very little. Hopefully for the time being, this helps fill in the Tubby Boots internet void a little bit. I promise to share Tubby Boots Out of this World as soon as I figure how to hook an 8-Track player up to my computer.


I am indebted to Oliver Trager's book Dig Infinity, which I have quoted Tubby from several times in the article. Also Girl Show: Into the Canvas World of Bump and Grind by A.W. Stencell (1999, ECW Press) was very helpful.
Tubby_boots_sings_3

32 comments:

Booksteve said...

Absolutely fascinating! Never even heard of the guy but have always been fascinated by Lord Buckley so the tie-in is even more interesting.

Merlinsguy said...

Great essay on a peripheral show biz figure. Thanks so much for that.

Tor Hershman said...

Check moi's blog's latest posting for the world's greatest "Gilligan's Island" parody.

shootr2 said...

I'm a bit confused...what's the tie-in to the pic of Bettie Page and Irving Klaw - both men were "tubby"?

Kliph Nesteroff said...

Naw, I was looking for an image to go along with the theme of fifties burlesque.

lorie said...

I grew up with Uncle Tubby in the 1960's in miami. my mother was his sister. what great memories i have of him. so nice to see your site.
Lorie Smith
Josie's daughter

Anonymous said...

For your viewing pleasure. Recorded in the 1980's in Ocean City MD.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFmzfztYzIg

It is in 4 parts, total time about 35 minutes.

ARCHAVIST said...

What a great post - you've got a new devoted reader

Rob Lett said...

Oh my gosh I have never seen video of Tubby before, thank you for posting that! I have been nuts about Tubby ever since I found my own signed copy of "Goes Topless" at the Bellwood Flea Market in Richmond, Va. years ago. The Youtube posting got me looking for my copy which I can't find so I just bought another off Ebay,lol. Is Tubby still alive?

Vince S. said...

I first became acquainted with Tubby when he occupied my rental condo in Ocean City, MD, while appearing at Gunning's in 1983&84. My younger son, then 19 frequently help him with props, lights, etc, during those performances, and later around Baltimore. I have two of his VHS tapes, and laugh just as hard at his antics now, as 26 years ago. Incidentally, his family name was Booth, and, yes, he was a distant relative of the infamous John Wilkes Booth and family. He was named Charles Augustus, I thought after Charles Augustus Lindbergh, whose historic flight had taken in 1927, a year before Tubby's birth, but he said he hadn't been.

Confidential said...

I was a friend of Tubby (we were both from Baltimore) for over 20 years and whenever I went to Miami for Vacation Tubby would have a front table for me at the Dunes. After the last show we would go to the Rascal House for breakfast where he made you laugh so much you couldn't keep food in your mouth.
Here are Four (4) clips I found on You Tube of Tubby. Enjoy (copy and paste)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFmzfztYzIg&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2srykvsDK0&feature=related


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syZpCcDQlOU&NR=1


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K6s9X3XCG8&NR=1

Anonymous said...

My father worked with Tubby in Miami and traveled with him on his last road trip. He was with him when he passed away - I cant be sure of the year but Im thinking 1994?

Anonymous said...

I have Out of This World on vinyl... and yes, it is autographed on the back.

John said...

I remember Tubby when he used to play at Coffee's Cafe in Rhode Island......Hilarious!!!!!

Anonymous said...

My grandparents traveled with the Prell Shows in the 50's. I'm looking for any info or old photos of that time, please!

sherrymatos@rocketmail.com

Anonymous said...

I saw him in Ocean City, Md. one summer in 1985 while I was on college Summer break waiting for my gf who was bartending downstairs to get off work__think the place was Gunning's @ 54th st. He was on a stool in a silk bathrobe like men wore in 1940's film noir. He was profane, odd, etc. It was surreal and interesting to say the least. I've been searching for years on info. about him. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

I saw him in Ocean City, Md. one summer in 1985 while I was on college Summer break waiting for my gf who was bartending downstairs to get off work__think the place was Gunning's @ 54th st. He was on a stool in a silk bathrobe like men wore in 1940's film noir. He was profane, odd, etc. It was surreal and interesting to say the least. I've been searching for years on info. about him. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry... saw a previous poster--- the year was '1984', in O.C., Md. He was right. My age(47)has obviosly taken a toll on my memory.

Anonymous said...

I met Tubby in the late 70's or early 80's. I had gone to Providence RI with a friend to vist his relatives, Dickie and Sandy. They took us to see him. What a great performer. We all saw him many times in Florida also. We were all so young then. What a great website. Thank you!

Gllsubm@comcast.net said...

I really appreciate the blog on Tubby.The 4 clips from Ocean Cty ,Maryland are a must to view.I have4 of his alblums.Tubby was a fantastic singer too-check out the records.I have a picture and advertisments concerning STANBOCH-a 550lb. dancer,comedy star from the early 60's.Let me know about this person.

Anonymous said...

Tubby recorded 4 alblums in his heyday.He was a gifted singer too.Check out the 4 clips from Gunning's in Ocean City, Maryland.I have pictures and promotional info. on STANBOCH-who was also a big entertainer-550lbs.Anyone having any background info.-lease share.Thank God for Tubby and this site!

Anonymous said...

I played bass with Tubby on the Emerald Seas which was owned by Eastern Steamship Lines for about 3 months in 1981. He would do the late show starting at midnight and I introduced him every night. Sometimes he made the skinny drummer stand up and put his hands in the air and then called him a fork. Tubby always gave 110% and was exhausted after every show which usually packed the lounge.
Tubby was was hanging out with a fellow named "Bill" who did some magic and mind games in his own act.

Anonymous said...

A fantastic site which has lead me to some many great and often obscure performers. Thanks for what is obviously a labour of love on your part!

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Sunny Isles beach and saw Tubby many times at the Aztec and the Dunes. At the Aztec he played the second floor showroom, a small stage for a very big man. He was a one of a kind talent who brought much joy to the world.

streamingmarv said...

Thanks for the page & memories. We saw Tubby a few time. The first in 1967 on our honeymoon & we were in the front row :)

Anonymous said...

My brother was inspired by tubby at the age of 8-10 while seeing him in 1960's in miami...he later went on to do comedy and IS a known tv comedian

Anonymous said...

I was a drummer on the Azure Seas out of Long Beach Calif in the 1980s and played Tubby's act on and off... he was a wonderful entertainer and a lot of fun to hang out with; you couldn't stop laughing.

It is a shame that that generation of entertainers is disappearing...

Anonymous said...

The Barton Brothers were a comedy act who sang in Yiddish. Most of their songs were adults only material.

A.T. said...

I got the Topless album at a record fair last year on a whim because it was autographed with my name, and have enjoyed a few laughs and can't believe there is not more information about Tubby on the web.

I was recently listening to to Harry Nilsson's Pandemonium Shadow Show album from 1967. The voice in the intro and outro sounds *exactly* like Tubby Boots. I can't seem to find any credits on the album or any connection between Tubby and Nilsson. Am I imagining things or is it possible it's really him?

dennisat4 said...


My uncle book tubby here in Rhode
Island in the 70's & 80's he was the funnest man I ever saw. when he was not book on cruse ships he would call my uncle to see if he had any dates open and my uncle would book Tubby. My uncle owned two places,Coffee Cafe in Cranston,RI and Coffee Lincoln Lounge in Lincoln,RI both were packed with customers when he played here.

dennisat4 said...

My uncle booked Tubby here in Rhode Island in the 70s & 80,s he was the funniest guy I ever seen and met.H would call my uncle to see if he had and dates open for his two resturants here in RI Coffee Cafe in Cranston, RI and Coffee Lincoln Lounge in Lincoln RI ( Tubby was usually doing cruse ships during this time) Tubby would pack these places whwn he came.

Anonymous said...

I saw him open for Tiny Tim at a nightclub in Glen Burnie, MD in the mid-1980s, then read about his passing in Variety years later. I still own a postcard that describes him as comedienne Tubby Boots.