Thursday, June 20, 2013
Slim Whitman (born Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr., 1923) was the butt of many jokes and parodies. In 1996, Tim Burton theorized that his yodeling might make aliens' heads explode: Mars Attacks featured Whitman's song "Indian Love Call" as the source of the martians' agony and death. Johnny Carson once pretended to be suffering from "Slim Whitman's Disease," which caused him to break out uncontrollably into yodels while speaking. Luckily, the made-up ad promised, Yodel Hills Hospital can help when "someone you love talks silly" (click here to see that skit). And, according to writer Graham Reid, Playboy magazine unceremoniously ridiculed him: "With a hairline that can't quite decide where it's receding to, a pair of front teeth you could pass a table knife between, and a dazzling black suit of rhinestone and polyester, Slim was the most arresting screen image since Yoda."
But, Slim got the last laugh. He influenced scores of musicians. Paul McCartney was supposedly inspired by a photo of Whitman to restring his guitar opposite from the way it is strung for right-handed players (read Barry Miles' book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, p. 21). Whitman was actually right-handed, but he had lost most of the second finger on his left hand in an accident so he learned to fret with his right hand instead and reversed the order of the strings. With his No. 1 hit "Rose Marie," he held the record for the longest time a single stayed on the UK pop music charts. "Rose Marie" was No. 1 for 11 weeks, a record unmatched even by The Beatles or Elvis! (embarrassing end to the story: he held that record for 36 years, from 1955 to 1991, until Bryan Adams, of all people, broke that record). And judging from the number of RIP's about Slim on Facebook today (even on a day when the internet was flooded with James Gandolfini obits), Whitman has not been forgotten.