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Rich still gives the right impression with a big, rich cast of hundreds of voices. Seven -count 'em - seven U.S. Presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton ... Rich Little has an impression of each of them.
Infamous for his skewing of political figures, Rich Little has charmed, amused, annoyed and lampooned politicians from here to his native Canada. He's has also entertained at the Reagan and Bush inaugural.
Actually a singer, comedian and actor of stage, film and television, Rich Little never left. While his peers from the Golden Age of Variety Show Impressionists (before TV's Not Ready for Primetime Players on "Saturday Night Live") have moved on to other things, Little continues to impress in Atlantic City, Lake Tahoe, Branson, Mo., Hawaii, Chicago, New York and Las Vegas, among others.
With Rich Little you get more than one-liners. He can carry on conversations and skits in any voice - at length. Talk about a Presidential "press conference!" Ask him, and he'll bring in John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda as well.
Rich Little is a professed classic movie buff - before the 1960s - he's particularly fond of doing Alan Ladd (his hero as a kid) and others who are no longer generally remembered. But Little has also latched on to Baby Boomer-friendly characters like Edith Bunker, Kermit the Frog, Robin Leach, Dr Ruth Westheimer, Jay Leno and Robin Williams. The key to his longevity is his ability to latch onto who's hot and what topics are hot - translated to songs, impressions, monologues - a complete act.
With a repertoire of over 200 voices, Rich Little says, "an impression is what you think a person sounds like. It could be an exaggeration or a cartoon. It's your impression. I think of an impersonation as more of an exact copy. Knowing the person personally is not important, it's knowing the speech patterns and mannerisms (in order) to imitate the person the way the public sees him." It took Little 7 years to perfect Frank Sinatra, several minutes to mimic Dr. Ruth.
The son of a doctor in Ottawa, Canada, Rich Little started his "career" at the age of 12 when he answered back to his teachers in their own voices. Observing the teachers in action was infinitely more fun than paying attention to classwork. To get dates, when Little noticed the real Rich couldn't get anywhere, he'd find out the girl's favorite actor then call her up imitating his voice.
In the 1950's, Rich Little started out in very small clubs in Canada. "I got booked into this place in Quebec, and when I started my act I discovered that no one in the audience understood English, it was strictly a French-speaking audience." Little figured he was dead until inspiration hit him. "I did walks-Jack Benny's walk, Bob Hope's walk, John Wayne's walk. They all walk the same in French as in English, He recalls.
A disc jockey and talk show host, one April Fool's Day marathon Little had "Jimmy Durante" emcee the morning show, "James Mason" serve as a rock 'n' roll deejay and "Elvis Presley" host an afternoon program. Like the infamous 1939 broadcast of "War of the Worlds," 500 autograph-hungry Elvis-believing fans besieged the station thinking he was really there.
In 1963, while still in his early 20's, Little was "discovered" in the United States. His friend, singer Mel Torme, then on the production team of the "Judy Garland Show" on CBS, asked him to make a tape. Instead of the usual impressions, he did Fred MacMurray, Dana Andrews, James Mason and Van Heflin, Garland thought it was "great" and Little was signed for the show.
Rich Little had his own variety show in the '70s. He also was an early guest host on that TV staple, "The Tonight Show," hosting it 12 times. Little became a household name and sat-in on one of the "Hollywood Squares.
Rich Little was named "Comedy Star of the Year," in 1974, by the American Guild of Variety Artists. He was the subject of nine comedy albums and three HBO comedy specials. His "Rich Little's Christmas Carol" with "W. C. Fields" as Scrooge, "Humphrey Bogart" as one of the ghosts and "Paul Lynde" as Bob Crachitt won a 1979 Emmy Award.
Rich Little's expert impressions have also been used seriously as when he stepped in for stars who were unable to do their own redubbings on soundtracks. David Niven's vocal cords were gone due to illness in the film, "Curse of the Pink Panther." Peter Sellers, himself was gone by the end of 'The "Trail of the Pink Panther." "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer," TV series needed voice-over narrations on three shows.
What is Rich Little's greatest fear? A sore throat. "Other people get a cold, and they just get a cold. I get a cold and John Wayne gets a cold, Orson Welles gets a cold, Nixon gets a cold, Truman Capote gets a cold. No, correction, Truman gets the sniffles. I get a cold and it's all over."
Over the years, Rich Little has been active with children's charities, including Juvenile Diabetes and was co-host of the Canadian division of the Children's Miracle Network. Little was inducted into the Miami Children's Hospital International Pediatrics Hall of Fame for his tireless efforts in fundraising on behalf of children.