Once a local boy who stared at model planes hanging from his ceiling, Tim Allen opens up to DHM on his Denver childhood, his real-life role as Dad and being a Dick.
By Amy Speer
Model airplanes dangle from the ceiling. A few lay on the ground, melted from the heat of combat. The infamous Johnny 7 — a seven-in-one toy gun — is propped in the corner, at the ready.
The scent of yesterday’s Spam casserole and last night’s aerial combat linger in the air of a Denver home near 3rd and Marion Streets. The house looks upon a stunning view of snow-capped mountains, bathed in morning light.
The powdered caps mean just one thing for Tim Dick — it’s going to be a cold walk to school. But the young boy can’t help but relish the sight from his bedroom window — or inhale one last whiff of melted plastic. There’s nothing like the smell of burnt Styrene in the morning.
Meet Tim Dick — once Denver native, now Hollywood star.
You might know him better as Tim Allen, the star of Home Improvement, the voice of Buzz Lightyear, the face of Santa Claus.
Here in Denver, though, a lucky few know him as Tim Dick, the neighborhood boy who shared the same birthday as the twins down the street. Almost 50 years later, a part of him is still Tim Dick — and that part comes home every now and then.
TIM DICK: THE BOY
Tim Allen always wanted to see the words I’m a Dick in print. That’s because Allen will tell you with sincere honesty: “I’m a Dick.”
“In fact,” he says, “my brothers are Dicks, my cousins are Dicks, and my sister — before she was married — was a Dick. My dad? One incredible Dick and the Dick responsible for me being a Dick.”
There’s even Uncle Richard — “a double Dick” — but let’s not stray too far off topic.
Back to Timothy Alan Dick, born June 13, 1953, in our Mile High City.
Allen says he believes his name helped create his life — or at least the sense of humor needed to cope with being the punch line of childhood jokes. Those low blows, pun intended, taught him an important lesson. “We have the power over words. Not the other way around,” Allen writes in his autobiography, I’m Not Really Here.
So Allen began making his own punch lines. Still, it would be a long time before he would belt out a series of animal-like grunts that would help America define manliness.
Back then, Mrs. Boyle — Mom of the Neighborhood Twins — was still reading him stories. It was those fanciful stories, told at the Boyle cabin, that helped deepen Allen’s love for words.
“She used to read us stories that really sparked the imagination,” Allen says in a Denver Hotel Magazine interview. “Her stories were wonderful and scary and unforgettable.”
Then, suddenly, Allen’s own childhood story shifted tragically. On Nov. 23, 1964, Allen’s father, Gene Dick, was killed in an auto collision with a drunk driver. Allen was just 11.
The Denver chapter of Tim’s life came to an end when his mother remarried, wedding her high-school sweetheart, Bill. She packed up her six children to join his three in Birmingham, Mich., a Detroit suburb. The only thing missing from the Brady Bunch equation was a maid named Alice and a very huge chunk of Allen’s heart.
“I wonder where I’d be in life if he’d stayed around,” Allen wrote in I’m Not Really Here.
Maybe he’d still be Tim Dick.
TIM ALLEN: THE MAN
Allen’s life on stage started out as a dare.
After graduating from Western Michigan University, Allen could wield colored pencils and paintbrushes just as impressively as he could a punch line. Following graduation, Allen took a job as a creative director for a Detroit advertising firm. There, a friend challenged him to make his first stand-up appearance at Detroit’s Comedy Castle in 1979. He still hangs on to a tile he chipped out of the comedy room floor.
Shortly after, Allen received a spot on a local talk show. “The producers came up to me and carefully said, ‘Um, we don’t feel comfortable flashing your name on screen. Surely, you understand. You know, Tim — Dick? People will think you made it up to be funny,’ ” Allen recalls on his website, timallen.com.
He wanted to be a comedian so much, he removed Dick right then and there. In that instant, Tim Allen was born.
Comedic acts turned into commercials; commercials turned into sitcoms; sitcoms turned into movies. Allen even penned two books. (What can we say — he’s a man of many talents.)
His sitcom career took off in 1991 when he starred in his own hit TV series, Home Improvement. Allen played Tim Taylor, a mishap-prone host of a home repair show. During its first season, the sitcom broke into the Nielsen Top 10, moving up to No. 1 in 1993.
Allen then appeared on the big screen, starring in top-grossing Disney movie The Santa Clause. Following that, he lent his voice to Toy Story, Disney/Pixar’s computer-animated hit.
Somehow during all that, Allen managed to find time to write his first book, Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, a revealing look into male behavior. The book topped The New York Times’ best-seller list in 1994, propelling him to an unprecedented trifecta with the No. 1 rated TV show, the No. 1 box-office movie and the No. 1 best-selling book — all in the same week.
We asked Allen, after tapping into so many mediums, does he have a favorite? “Truthfully, each different job has its own attraction,” Allen says. “I really enjoy voiceover work, like Buzz Lightyear. It demands a lot of imagination.”
Thanks, Mrs. Boyle.
“I love doing sitcoms because you get to build a character over time. There’s an evolution to it. Besides, nothing beats the intimacy of receiving laughter and feedback from a studio audience.”
Plus, it’s a 9-to-5 job. Hello, family every night.
“And I really like the pace and focus of movie acting. There’s an intensity packed into just a few months. It’s kind of like going to summer camp. It’s a new location away from home. You form bonds with friends, and it’s kind of sad when it’s over.
“But my true love — my first love, will always be stand-up comedy. It’s just you, a microphone and an audience. It’s such a pure form, I don’t even consider it a medium. It’s a large. Maybe even an extra large.”
MIKE BAXTER: OUTDOORSMAN
Now, Allen is back in evolution mode with his latest ABC sitcom, Last Man Standing. In the sitcom, which wrapped up its second season in March, Allen stars as Mike Baxter, the marketing director of a Denver sporting-goods store. The sitcom marks his most recent creative return to the Mile High City.
Allen revisited Denver’s Cranmer Park, modeling some of the Last Man Standing sets after the very park where he played Little League football as a Wolfpack Ranger.
While Allen’s character, Mike, is the king at work, he’s the odd man out at home in a houseful of women. Instead of obsessing over power tools, like Tim Taylor on Home Improvement, Allen obsesses over things like hunting gear and four-wheelers. (Insert manly grunt here.)
“There is definitely a lot of Mike Baxter in me,” Allen tells the magazine. “I like outdoor machines — 4x4s, snowmobiles, motorcycles and wood boats. Come on — what guy doesn’t love outdoor equipment?”
The Mike Baxter in Allen loves taking hikes, while the Tim Dick in Allen loves mountain views from his Grand Lake cabin — another Colorado connection.
But don’t let all this smog-free air fool you — there’s still a part of Allen, a big part, that relates best to Tim Taylor and his love for exhaust. Allen finds solace in the garage, dubbing it “a creative center” in his second book, I’m Not Really Here.
“Some of today’s greatest companies began in the garage,” Allen writes. “The Ford Motor Company, Delta Airplanes, Apple Computers and more than a few great rock-and-roll bands. There’s something spiritual about this place. Maybe it’s the size of the door or all the machines inside. Maybe it’s the work area or the tools or the smell of grease.”
One of the first cars Allen worked on was a VW-based dune buggy. Since then, Tim has done everything from building hotrods from the frame up to designing fancy Cadillacs with enough horsepower to make even young Tim Dick belt out a manly grunt.
If it’s on wheels, it’s worth souping up, and wheelchairs are no exception. In 2002, Allen helped create the Dragonfly wheelchair for his niece, Megan, who is unable to walk unassisted because she has cerebral palsy.
“When she was young, I promised I would help design and build a new wheelchair for her,” Allen says on his website. “And kids remember promises.”
So Allen kept his promise, delivering the Dragonfly, a metallic orange wheelchair complete with anodized aluminum foot pads, black perforated leather upholstery and four-wheel engineering designed to negotiate sand, snow and mud.
Think four-wheel drive on a rocky summit in the backcountry of Colorado.
TIM ALLEN: THE DAD
There’s something else the real-life Allen shares with Mike Baxter — and Tim Taylor, for that matter.
Allen goes by the name Dad.
In real life, he has two daughters, a 23-year-old, Kady, from his first marriage, and a 3-year-old, Elizabeth, with wife Jane Hajduk. On the TV set, he’s managed to father six kids altogether — fictional ones, of course.
“Being an on-screen father is a much safer proposition,” Allen tells Denver Hotel Magazine. “I get to offer sage words of advice to my on-screen kids, carefully driven by a great writing staff. At home, the writers seem to be on a coffee break — can’t find them anywhere — so I have to wing it on my own. It’s often a hit-or-miss process but always driven by love.”
So much love, in fact, he once ate a dog treat — a red one — in hopes of soliciting a giggle out of his oldest daughter.
“I told her I could eat a dog bone. She didn’t believe me,” Allen recalls in I’m Not Really Here. “So I bit off a hunk, chewed and swallowed. Her eyes lit up, she grinned, then flipped out and started crying. So I did the only thing I could do — I licked the tears from Kady’s face, nuzzled up against her and everything was fine.”
Had Kady been a boy, Allen might have predicted her reaction a little better — most boys would have asked to sample the treat, too. Since then, though, the father of two has realized something important about the female kind.
“Men are outwardly gaseous and happy to be so,” Allen tells the magazine. “Women, not so much.”
Meanwhile, after playing Tim Dick, Tim Taylor, Mike Baxter and plain-old Dad, Allen has discovered the secret ingredient to true manliness.
“I seem to be surrounded by women at home, in my job, in my world,” Allen says. “In many ways, work and activities define men as men, but it’s the interaction with women that define us as something quite deeper.”
Maybe that explains some of his newest passions in life — growing tomatoes, tea parties (with his daughter) and dress shopping (for his wife).
Hey, salt and peppering your own homegrown tomatoes is manly. You just have to do it with a grunt.