TAMMY GRIMES (January 30, 1934 – October 30, 2016) seemed British, but she was born in Massachusetts. She lived most of her life on the East Coast (she died in New Jersey). She first gained attention in some of the lah-de-dah cabaret/revues in New York City. At a time when elegant and eccentric Brits were popular in cabaret (Noel Coward, Bea Lillie and Hermione Gingold come to mind), Tammy’s brand of eclectic charm fit right in.
In the late 50's when TV variety shows weren't plentiful and people actually went out to enjoy an evening of songs and comedy, budget impresarios such as Ben Bagley and Julius Monk put on nightly revues, and you could also go nightclub-hopping to see a variety of performers. Tammy quickly moved from this level to Broadway, winning a Tony award as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
A slight setback was that the movie version starred Debbie Reynolds. Likewise, Tammy was one of the stars of Neil Simon’s “California Suite,” but the movie version featured Maggie Smith instead. It wasn’t just that casting directors screwed up her chance for international fame; she did it to herself. She turned down the role of Samantha on TV's “Bewitched,” convinced she could do better as the sole star of her own sitcom, “The Tammy Grimes Show.”
That show was one of the most notorious bombs of the 60’s, canceled within a month. It was a bit of a shame, because like Judy Carne or even Marlo “That Girl” Thomas, Tammy had a lot of charm and pixie-esque vulnerability. But it certainly would’ve been interesting to see what the much more Salem-like Grimes would’ve done over the warmer, more Californian Liz Montgomery as the witch Samantha.
Tammy appeared in Noel Coward shows including “High Spirits and “Look After Lulu,” and won another Tony Award for “Private Lives” in 1970. Speaking of the Tony, not only did Tammy win, but so did her one-time husband Christopher Plummer, and their daughter Amanda Plummer. After that, she was less visible. Her golden decade was definitely the 60’s.
Now, how...weird...was she? While her personality was quirky and amusing in films and on stage, her choices the few times she was given a shot at SOLO SINGING STAR success were very bizarre. Her attempt at a kind of "wall of sound" hit single was the hot mess "Nobody Needs Your Love More Than I Do." It was produced by Jack Nitzsche, who tended to throw the kitchen sink at most any singer, even overpowering Judy Henske on an oddball single. When it came to putting together an album, Tammy went well beyond "slow song, fast song, sad song, funny song," and came up with tracks that were pretty jarring when placed next to teach other.
Try and make sense out of her version of "Tom Dooley," which sounds like she's turned the folk song into a Geisha's lament. There was nobody quite like Tammy Grimes, and sometimes, you could listen to Tammy Grimes and not be sure it was Tammy Grimes.