By Bobbie Katz
Rich Little is proof positive that “one” does NOT have to be the loneliest number.
Rich Little as Ronald Reagan
Well, hey, he has more than a Little company, what with some 200 personalities living inside him, causing him to hear voices on a nightly basis. Even though he is not himself these days, it is those around him who end up “cracking up” – but then, that’s the normal reaction when witnessing the hilarious right-on impressions of everyone from the presidents of the United States to movie and television personas, past and present, and more that he performs at the Laugh Factory at the New Tropicana in his brand new show “Rich Little Live.”
This autobiographical look at the 50-year career of this acclaimed longtime incredible talent, accompanied by comical video clips of himself with the stars he is emulating along with charcoal portraits Little has drawn of them, definitively shows that he is never truly alone -- after all, it’s what’s – or in this case who’s -- inside that counts.
“My father used to tell people, ‘We never really go to the movies – our son does them all for us,’” Little quips.
“The Jimmy Stewart show that I did recently at the LVH (now the Westgate) worked very well but a lot of people said to me, why don’t you do your own show?” he adds. “I had a lot of video clips as well as art that I had done that had never been seen before so I decided to do it. -- I started doing charcoal sketches of stars before I ever did impressions so I have done a couple hundred portraits now. I had to whittle it all down to about an hour though, which was tough.”
Little, who many consider to be “the grandfather of impressionists,” having really started it all (although he humbly notes that Frank Gorshin came before him), is known for doing more voices than anyone else and for doing voices that no one else does. He also attributes his longevity to having the right material, which has come with experience, and says that his strength is his sense of humor. Maintaining that an impression won’t be a hit unless the material works, he acknowledges that it’s okay to tell corny jokes but that it’s important to know what works and to work clean.
“Today I do my own writing,” Little says. “In the early days of television, I had things written – the writers would submit things to me. When it comes to my impressions, I’ve always specialized in people who are in the news and who are seen all the time so you can see them talking. They have a certain familiarity. Presidents and politicians are my strong point. I don’t do sports figures because they don’t talk. I have to listen to a personality a lot to get his or her sound in my head. Sone come very quickly because they have distinctive voices.
“Barack Obama is tough to do,” he continues. “Clinton is easy to do. Trump is hard to do because he talks so fast but I’m working on him. I’ve got the face and hair down; now I just have to get his rhythm, When it comes to movie and TV stars, the hardest one I ever had to do was Stacy Keach, -- when he was in the slammer in England for marijuana possession, I had to dub his voice for four episodes of Mike Hammer. It was tough – I just listened to him and went back and forth and tried to copy him. The impression that took me the shortest time to get was Dr. Ruth. I got her down in 10 minutes. The longest has been Barack Obama and I still can’t do it.”
As for his two favorite voices that he emulates, Little reveals that they are Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Reagan. He started doing impressions when he was about 15 growing up in Ottawa, Canada, imitating his teachers before they walked into the classroom and then answering the teachers’ questions in their respective voices. At home, however, his first celebrity impression was asking his mother for a piece of pie in Jimmy Stewart’s voice. After that, Little began performing at parties at home, emulating his family members. He then began doing Ottawa politicians, subsequently developing a name in Canada in performance and on television.
His big break in America came via singer Mel Torme, with whom Little had performed on a Canadian TV show and had become friends. Torme, who was doing a special musical piece on The Judy Garland Show, began to play Little’s tape for Garland, to which she exclaimed, according to Little, “I don’t want to hear anymore, Impressionists make me fart.” Luckily, before she could do that, the tape began to play Little’s impression of James Mason, whom Garland had starred opposite in A Star is Born.
“She loved James Mason so much and loved my impression so much that she booked me on the show,” Little laughs. “I met James Mason about five years later and I thanked him for getting me on The Judy Garland Show. I told him that I had done an impression of him and he looked at me and said, ‘What on earth for?’ and walked away.”
As for Ronald Reagan, Little reveals that he knew him very well and that he spent a lot of time with him.
“I met him at the White House,” he recalls. “He knew of me and knew that I did impressions of Nixon and Jimmy Carter and he started teasing me. I knew his television and regular voice, having chatted with him a lot.
“ I remember once I did George W. Bush at a rally,” he adds. “I didn’t have his voice down and Jeb Bush was there. He came up to me and said, ‘Really stinks.’ I went home and perfected it and within a year, I did it for him again. It was like the difference between night and day.”
Of course, making a good impression means also getting the facial expressions and mannerisms down to a “t” along with the voice and Little admits that he has occasionally found some unique ways to do that. For example, in the beginning, it took him a long time to perfect his impression of Johnny Carson, whom he portrayed in the television movie The Late Shift,
“I was looking at ostriches at the San Diego Zoo one day and thought to myself that was how I was going to do my impression of Johnny because of the way he moved his head,” he smiles. “Once I did that, it came quickly but it took about a year.”
Little currently has a book coming out called “Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been.” It’s bound to be a good read from a star who has turned the antithesis of the adage “Be Yourself” into one of the most successful careers ever.
This article appears courtesy of Vegas Insider Daily.com.