One final comeback
by Jennifer Cohron
Apr 03, 2011 | 1940 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tim Hollis stands near the Popeye exhibit in his museum with Kim and Corky, Cousin Cliff Holman’s homemade puppets. Hollis is the author of “Cousin Cliff: 40 Magical Years in Television.” He also worked with Holman as a puppeteer in the 980s and 1990s. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
Tim Hollis stands near the Popeye exhibit in his museum with Kim and Corky, Cousin Cliff Holman’s homemade puppets. Hollis is the author of “Cousin Cliff: 40 Magical Years in Television.” He also worked with Holman as a puppeteer in the 980s and 1990s. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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One of the first things that Dora native Tim Hollis learned to say was “back, back, back, Jack, Jack, Jack.”

He picked up the phrase by watching Cousin Cliff Holman’s program on Channel 13.

Jack’s was a major sponsor of “The Popeye Show,” the fourth format of many that Holman would experience in a career that spanned five decades.

Hollis, author of “Cousin Cliff: 40 Magical Years in Television,” said that Holman liked to joke about what a good friend the cartoon sailor had been to him.

“He always said that Popeye bought him two houses, three cars and put his kids through college,” Hollis said.

Hollis added that it was an odd twist of fate that Holman lost his right eye when he fell during a power outage following Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Holman kept the eye closed until a glass one could be put in so that he wouldn’t scare children.

“He commented how ironic it was that he was associated with Popeye for all those years and there he was going around with his right eye closed just like Popeye,” Hollis said.

On March 27, Hollis participated in a “Baby Boomer Birthday Bash” at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham. The party also included a salute to Holman, who died in 2008.

The Seasoned Performers, Alabama’s only senior adult acting company, presented their Silver Pepper Award to Holman’s family.

Executive Director Barbara Sloan said the group organized the event because the first members of the Baby Boomer generation are turning 65 this year.

Sloan said no one “spiced up” the life of local children in the 1950s and ‘60s better than Holman.

“He was such a big Baby Boomer idol. Everybody loves him,” Sloan said.

The bash included a video tribute to Holman and a special live show featuring Kim and Corky, Holman’s homemade puppets who appeared with him when he made his debut on Channel 13’s “The Tip Top Clubhouse” in 1954.

It is no coincidence that Hollis filled in for Holman as puppeteer last Sunday.

Hollis was Holman’s puppeteering sidekick during personal appearances in the 1980s and when Holman made what he referred to as his “sixth comeback” to television in the 1990s.

“It seemed like every time people thought they had seen the last of him, sooner or later he would be back again,” Hollis said.

Holman was 25 when he was hired for “The Tip Top Clubhouse.” The show’s sponsor named him Cousin Cliff because he looked too young to be someone’s uncle.

Holman stayed in the Birmingham television market from 1954 until 1969, when he moved to a new station in Anniston.

From 1972 to 1985, Holman had a number of jobs.

He was manager of the Parliament House hotel in Birmingham, did pubic relations work for the American Lung Association and even served one term on the Vestavia Hills City Council.

However, he was only happy when he was entertaining children.

“When we had the show on cable and the cameras weren’t rolling, Cliff was still telling the kids jokes and doing magic tricks. He never stopped. It was just a part of him,” Hollis said.

When Holman was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a Birmingham News reporter noted that his fingers were “in constant motion, twisting and shaping imaginary balloon animals as he smiles and waves at people only he can see.”

His sense of humor was one of the last things stolen from him.

“He didn’t recognize his wife or son, but if he heard the set up line for a joke, he was ready with the punch line,” Hollis said.

In his final days, Holman received more media attention than he had in years when he was featured in “The Alzheimer’s Project,” an HBO documentary series.

A television crew was in the room when Holman drew his last breath.

Hollis said he has no desire to see the footage himself. However, he believes that Holman would have enjoyed knowing that he was on television right until the end.

“I’m sure he would have made some sort of remark like ‘Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I died on TV,’” Hollis said.

Copies of “Cousin Cliff: 40 Magical Years in Television” are available locally at Woni’s Bookshelf in Sumiton.