What Drove an Unemployed Actor to Set the World’s Record for Tree-Sitting in 1982?

Illustration by Michael Ziobrowski

On July 4, 1982, 29-year-old Timothy Roy climbed to the top of a 15-foot wooden ladder and settled, unceremoniously and with little fanfare, into a 6-foot-by-8-foot treehouse perched above the eighth hole of the Golf N’ Stuff miniature golf course in Norwalk.

And there he stayed for the next 431 days, two hours and 30 minutes. With only the ebb and flow of the 605 freeway’s commuter traffic serving as a backdrop, Roy’s tenure endured the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands and the entire 1982-1983 NBA season. He finally came down in September 1983.

During his long and what must have been lonely event, he did have all the trappings of a comfortable home—a sink, a working toilet and food (often provided by local fast-food joints with the hope of catching a quick picture that could be used for cheap marketing fliers). And by all accounts, there were several hundred curiosity-seekers who came by at various times to gawk, providing him what would have likely been a modicum of company.

What he didn’t have, necessarily, was a mission—other than to draw attention to himself. By all accounts, he was an out-of-work actor, and the stunt took place in the waning days of a Screen Actors Guild strike. But there is nothing to suggest the event was political or intended to be part of a movement.

In fact, the only remnant of the effort is a slightly faded, brown, hand-painted sign affixed to the tree near the southeast corner of the Golf N’ Stuff, between the eighth and ninth holes and within plain sight of two other icons of the property, the dragon’s mouth and the large windmill.

The sign contains a rudimentary drawing of a king (making it seem more of a proclamation) and reads, in part, “Treehouse Trivia—This is the very treehouse in which TWO Guinness Book Tree Sitting Records were established.”

Roy’s predecessor in the feat was 23-year-old Glen Woodrich, who perched himself in that same treehouse for 182 days in 1978, earning him a Guinness Record at the time. Similarly apolitical, there is nothing to suggest that Woodrich’s endeavor was done to be anti-war—or even anti-golf for that matter.

The sign details Roy’s early-’80s record-breaking excursion and anoints him as the “Current Champion,” perhaps begging others to pursue a similar record. The treehouse still stands, ready to accommodate any millennial who accepts such a provocative invitation. One can only hope.

Although the city of Norwalk is technically part of Los Angeles County, its proximity to Orange County, both geographically and culturally, is undeniable. Tori Greger, a current OC resident who worked at the Golf N’ Stuff during the stunt, recalls residents from Huntington Beach and other OC cities coming to the property to check out the man she and others came to know colloquially as “Treehouse Tim.”

But one still wonders: Why?

Directly in the wake of grander stunts from the 1970s, such as Evel Knievel jumping school busses and the Snake River Canyon, perhaps tree-sitting seemed more in sync with our isolationist tendencies of the early 1980s. Such a stunt may not have worked a few years later in the overt bravado of the Reagan-era Cold War, during which it may have been considered too passive.

But maybe Roy was a bit ahead of his time. In the 1990s and 2000s, tree-sitting would have been taken way too seriously. Reports suggest that young, political idealists from progressive groups such as Earth First! and Greenpeace have employed the act as a form of serious protest in conjunction with both the Paris Accords and recent G7 meetings.

But nobody would rightfully accuse Roy of such blatant political overtones. Despite being 35 miles directly southeast, his stunt had all the makings of pure Hollywood.

“I treated this as a movie production,” he once told People magazine. “I wrote it, I produced it, and I acted in this production. It wasn’t in the script for me to get sick, so I didn’t. I just played my part until the curtain fell.”

And as with any halfway decent Hollywood script, Roy’s stunt didn’t have a prototypical happy ending. There are no records (at least that I could find) indicating that Roy went back to work as an actor or gained any type of notoriety aside from the aforementioned blurb in People and an Associated Press wire story. But he is on that sign, which is perhaps enough.

As for the setting itself? Just a year after Roy descended the wooden ladder for the last time, three Southern California teenagers who had gone to the same Golf N’ Stuff one April night were murdered nearby. According to newspaper accounts, Eddie Kaster had stumbled toward the miniature golf course to alert someone, anyone, of the bodies of his sister, Rachel, and their friend Veronica Flores in the bed of the San Gabriel River, which runs parallel to the property. He died soon after, and the horrific murders were never solved. Greger and others who worked at the miniature golf course at the time recall, rightfully so, that event as “more memorable than the treehouse guy.”

Later that year, the property was once again front and center to some extent with the release of the original Karate Kid (yes, the film with Ralph Macchio), which had scenes filmed there. Collectively, all of the activity surrounding the Norwalk Golf N’ Stuff in and around the early 1980s once prompted a law-school colleague, John Sklut, to opine that the owners should hire a full-time docent.

But for all of the ups and downs that have occurred there, the faded sign remains a visceral reminder to current patrons of perhaps the most quintessential ’80s cultural event that transpired on the grounds. What it does not explain, at least outwardly, is that only in early-’80s Southern California can a grown man sit in a treehouse and be romanticized for it years later.

Cherin is a Los Angeles-based attorney and lobbyist. He lives in Long Beach.

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