Friday, June 1, 2018, was a most singular night in Hollywood: not to be emulated via time travel, parallel universe expedition, or mimicry of any kind! Yes. While you were out at that art exhibit opening surrounded by Hollywood phonies pretending to be ordinary, average, run of the mill phonies, or at Ha Ha’s comedy club complimenting your friend’s Jerry Seinfeld impression when it was actually supposed to have been that of Rudy Giuliani, and/or stuck in Hollywood Bowl traffic, simultaneously blaming Donald Trump, because…what the Hell, he is, after all, impersonating our most current president, Rich Little was working the marble floor fronting a very large display case at the Hollywood Museum impersonating a president in his own right, who, in turn, emulated many a non-crook in his day (via non-fake news emulating the REAL news!!!)
Yeah verily, a most sound unveiling, if not commemoration, was in process at the Hollywood Museum (aka the Old Max Factor Building): The Induction of one of America’s top impressionists along with the signing of his latest book, in conjunction with the culling of further curios and keepsakes incumbent on the Hollywood Museum’s ever-expanding collection!
All this transpired on the heels of a May 31, 2018, commemoration initiated by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce by way of their Hollywood Hero Presentation via the Johnny Grant Award right alongside Diahann Carroll this year’s Mary Pickford Award recipient!
And what did the Hollywood Museum collect from Mr. Little to complement their vast and magical compendium?: Aside from vocal impersonation, he also enacts his own unique bonus artistry in a form of impressionism via sleight of hand. Okay, not in the classic vein or even the *gotcha* sense, but by means of caricature illustration the likes of which genuinely capture the individual and bestow their overall impression in the visual gist!
Additionally, and representative of a career’s worth of showbiz souvenirs, Hollywood Museum president and founder Donelle Dadigan graciously intercepted a plethora of props and costume pieces alike for prominent showcase to the din of a thousand camera flashes and applause from the press and showbiz individuals in kind (and even some of the catering folk)! Included in the mix, classic props exemplifying the careers of Johnny Carson, George Burns, and Dean Martin specifically along with caricatures by Little himself of the three comedic icons all of whom make decided cameos in his latest memoir/collection of anecdotes.
Having honed his craft from a very early age, to date, Little has rendered hundreds of illustrations of everyone from family to friends and nearly every star and statesman he has interminably imitated. Not only are his shows filled with hilarity to this day, but are also artistically and aesthetically pleasing as Little has been known to incorporate certain watershed sketches in his act (and quite possibly any comedy sketches in which he might engage.)
“I started drawing before I did impressions,” confessed Little to the crowd. “When I was about 15, I would draw pictures of relatives and neighbors and people, and gradually I started to do movie stars and television performers; I’ve done about 300 sketches in my lifetime and these are just some of ‘em Johnny Carson, George Burns… [etc…]”
But lest we forget, the icing on the most current of cakes (i.e. the Maraschino cherry on the hot fudge sundae reveling in our most contemporary month of Sundays) Little’s most recent work of literature: As told by Johnny Carson, as envisaged by Richard Nixon, as foreseen by Bob Hope, (as never divined by James Van der beek) and as recounted by Rich Little himself, the title of the book alone “Little by Little: People I Have Known and Been” says it all!
Benefitting veterans, and service men and women by way of the Gary Sinise Foundation, said literary work not only supports a good cause but lets us all in on Little’s love of laughter with a humanitarian bent.
“I’ve been very privileged to work with some of the greatest comedians that ever lived: Bob Hope, Carol Channing, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, George Burns, Carol Burnett, Don Rickles and Jackie Gleason, to name a few,” said Little. “They all made me laugh. I thought it was time to share some of those laughs with fans, family, friends and the rest of the country… It’s just funny [to look at] things that have happened to me with celebrities down through the years and I’m sure there’s a few in there that you probably don’t know…but I was very fortunate… I think the greatest thrill in my career was to have all these idols growing up in Canada and to get to know them and work with them.”
“To watch Jimmy Stewart on the screen and see Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball and just marvel at their talent and then within ten years I was getting to know them and then working with them! …This is really not a biography,” Little clarified, “but more of a humorous glimpse of the people I’ve impersonated and some of the funny stories that happened along the way!”
(i.e. An Anecdoteology as the LA Beat has come to term it!)
And as if all the above accomplishments are not enough, of late, and with 200 plus voices to his name, Little has presently broken all performance records in Las Vegas’ Tropicana by way of extended contract, rendering him their longest running act, not only at the resort itself but in all of Vegas! Almost in commemoration of said achievement (and perhaps it is) he impersonates Johnny Carson imitating a dealer at the bar working his magical game fingers to gamblers in the form of Jack Benny, George Burns and Richard Nixon in a recent local film project! Naturally, Little appears in the starring role–at least four times!!!
Raised in Ottowa Canada by a doctor and a housewife, pertaining to his career choice, Little can only muse, “How did I become an impersonator? Perhaps my mother was conceived by a Xerox machine! … No one in our family had ever been in show business. No one ever had ‘show biz’ yearnings.”
But The LA Beat wouldn’t be surprised if, aside from his maternal Xeroxian ancestry, his talent derives in part due to his Canadian Heritage. (Come to think of it, Martin Short-a man of almost as large comedic talent, but sporting a comparably diminutively referential surname, is a perfect mirroring apple fallen not far from said similar and inspirational tree.)
All the same, becoming a U.S. Citizen in January 2010 did not take the polish off the pectin as Little recited the Pledge of Allegiance–in John Wayneze—all at the behest of the presiding judge!
Sounding exactly the same as in the days of Donny & Marie, The Love Boat, (on to Mister Roboto-and-beyond-as recollected by yours truly), Little’s voice is still just as youthful and uniform as it was at his career’s commencement, and not because he is imitating himself–or rather, his former self: This is still just exactly the way he sounds! And don’t even get the LA Beat started on his actual impressions which are just as timeless, classic and original as always!
“It was so cold on Hollywood Blvd. this morning, a flasher came up to me and had to describe himself,” intoned Little for the Hollywood Museum crowd in the unmistakable cadence of Johnny Carson. As a matter of fact, if one were not there to witness the words emanating from Mr. Little’s ever adept mouth, one might presume to have stepped into a séance particularly at the unveiling and donning of the evening’s most singular memento. “I never realized how big it was … But he actually wore this … Looks like a mushroom,” exclaimed Little of Johnny Carson’s old toadstool-ish Carnac Turban.
But the Carson impression, for which Little is most famous, did not always come easily to the Golden-Eared, Silver-Tongued impressionist: “To tell you the truth, when I first came down to Hollywood from Canada…to do the Judy Garland show in 1964, my agent got me a shot on The Tonight Show and I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t do Johnny Carson and I said, ‘If I do that show, I want to be able to do Johnny Carson. They’re going to ask me.’ So I worked. Oh my gosh. I watched the show and taped it, and I studied his voice, and I just couldn’t get it. And then one day, I was down at the San Diego Zoo. I was looking at a bunch of ostriches, and as I looked at these ostriches I went, ‘Wait a second. That’s the key to doing Johnny Carson! Think of an ostrich!’ And that’s what I did! (In Johnny Carson voice): Johnny was always looking around. I guess the jokes were so bad he was worried that somebody was going to come after him… Jack Benny had that same thing…always looking around. It’s amazing. They both had a lot of the same mannerisms. Johnny Carson and Jack Benny: Very similar, in many ways.”
In watching Mr. Little after all these years, it is evident that via his perpetual youthful enthusiasm, his humor is essentially timeless … For the most part …
According to Hollywood Museum President and Founder Donelle Dadigan: “My entire family went to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago and we were able to see Mr. Little in his show at the Tropicana; we were everywhere from 89 years old down to the mid-thirties. So we had several generations of the family, and the fun part, for me, was that the entire family recognized and enjoyed a certain of the stars that you were an impersonator for and it was a lot of fun because you know you have such great talent and your library spans so many decades and generations …”
Little in all modesty however, could only recount the following:
“Well you know I am always concerned about the audience because if we have young people … they’re not going to know anybody I’m doing. Once in a while somebody surprises you … but a couple of weeks ago I had a 15-year-old … sitting in the front row and I’m doing my act and he is laughing, he is screaming, and it kind of threw me! So, when the show was [finished] I beckoned him over and I said, ‘You seemed to enjoy the show,’ and he said ‘Oh Mr. Little you’re very funny. Oh that was great!’ He said, ‘But I’m confused,’ And I said, ‘What are you confused about?’ And he said, ‘I was just wondering why you kept changing your voice!’ People say the darndest things!”
And there were quite a few people there to share in the festivities who had, not so much darned things to say, but to quite darned enthusiasm): Most of whom Little has known, and only some whom he has been, particularly when you count or discount all, or most of the millennials!
Present amongst peers, friends, celebrities and wait staff: Alice Amter, Alison Arngrim, Bob Bergen, Jack Betts, George Chakiris, Teresa Ganzel, Darby Hinton, Geri Jewell, Roslyn Kind, Loren Lester, Kate Linder, Geoffrey Mark, Jim Meskimen, Lee Purcell, Laura Pursell, Judy Tenuta, Peter Mark Richman, Kevin Spirtas, Paul Sorvino, Barbara Van Orden, Max and Valeria from the catering staff, along with a special moment with former Hollywood Squares co-star, Ruta Lee, engaging in some hilarious admissions about their mutual friend Dean Martin.
“My favorites of course is Dean [Martin]? I’m crazy about him,” confessed Lee.
“Did he hit on you?,” Little could only ponder.
“None of the guys hit on me at all,” admitted Lee to a complete and utter lack of belief from all in earshot and sightline. “I’m so sorry because I could have written a book…y’know…if I’d had an affair with Frank [Sinatra]. I think I’m the only girl in Hollywood that DIDN’T have an affair with Frank, but ‘Loudie’ is the name that Dean Martin gave me. Because he said, ‘God didn’t give Ruta tits. He gave her a set of speakers.!’” All this in the pre-wake of uproarious laughter again from all within apt decibel range (out into the parking lot and all the way up to Grauman’s Chinese theatre)!
Yes, It was a night of imitation in the form of best flattery for everyone as OZ Actor Steven Wishnoff impersonated an audience member of performance art as the LA Beat interviewed Alison Arngrim and her husband Bob. Comedienne Judy Tenuta temporarily abandoned her go-to religion Judy-ism by way of a temporary foray into Rich-tianity! Fellow impressionist Jim Meskiman impersonated a guy who only spent ¼ of the night doing impressions rather than a full one, and Ruta Lee could not help but follow in Hollywood Squares’ chum Little’s wake by perpetually impersonating a woman 35 years her junior! (No joke, she does NOT look or act 83!!!)
Each and every colleague interviewed had praises to sing but emulated that of a great orator, all the while crooning their compliments!
According to Judy Tenuta, “My favorite memory of Rich Little is that I did a radio show with him in Las Vegas when I was doing [another] show there… I love when he does Johnny Carson. I just love that one, and he’s always got funny little stories with it too!”
Soap actor and fellow thespian Kevin Spirtas had a most theatrical tale of intrigue to share, “I actually had the pleasure of working with Rich Little in summer stock … up in Sacramento at the Music Circus and we did a show called Little Me which was Rich’s character—he played seven [parts actually] and each of them was an impression and it was just one of the most delightful [things I’d ever participated in] … and he’d stop and he’d do his own material …”
If Ruta Lee doesn’t know Little the best, she has certainly known him the longest, and that was only from one monologue sitting! “I have so many favorite memories of Rich Little. My best memory is one that really made me laugh when I was being awarded the Silver Spur Award … The program went on and on and on, and by the time Rich Little, who was going to present me the award as Duke, Wayne, as Henry Fonda, as Glenn Ford, [went on and finished] nobody was in the audience! But we laughed about it. So that’s the way he is.”
At this, the LA Beat could only muse, “You know where people who talk too much go to recover? ‘On and on anon.’”
“Mine (favorite impression that is) is Richard Nixon. He did all the presidents,” exclaimed Laura Pursell!
Alison Arngrim in all her Nellie Oleson badassery was good enough to imitate a sweet, kind, and caring complimenter on the night in question: “I grew up on Rich Little like everyone else. It’s amazing, I was a little, little girl watching “Laugh-In” and Mike Douglas and Flip Wilson … and there as was Rich Little on all of them. He was the guy and he was everybody … He’s in his own category and he is absolutely an institution unto himself …massive impressionist. So we bought the book and we’re getting’ it signed!”
Master Impressionist Jim Meskiman (and the only impressionist interviewed during the course of the evening) of Amazon Prime’s new show Impress Me (aptly enough, one of the first centering completely around impressionists) had this to say:
“For me Rich Little represented just a light when I was a little kid of 10 or 11 years old, I was interested in doing funny voices, my mom (Marion Ross aka Mrs. Cunningham) did accents,” said Meskiman. “So I was interested in the voice at an early age …When I happened to switch around on the three channels that were available back then, you know you’d hit Rich Little and I’d be like, ‘Oh my God I just struck gold!’ There was nothing I wanted to watch more than Frank Gorshin? Rich Little, Fred Travalena? These great impressionists create that magic, and I honestly never thought about it as a career until I was in my 20s and then of course I thought these guys really were the founders of this art form!”
But one of the most memorable sentiments of the night bestowing a most well-rounded, heartfelt notion of who Rich Little is as a person had to come from Singer/Model/Stage Star Founder Barbara Van Orden: “Rich Little is a magnificent talent and…my partner, co-author of our Playboy Book, Michael Distefano and [I] interviewed Rich…at his home for two hours…wonderful stories and he showed us his artwork… the charcoal drawings… And every picture that he drew, you knew exactly who it was, because sometimes you say, ‘Well, I think it sorta looks like this one and that one. Every on was so, so good [and it was so, so crowded]: a big long hall he had of all these people that he worked with, and that he liked… He was very kind, very gracious and he remembered Michael’s father who used to work at the Playboy Club. And he remembered my husband from Universal Studios, from a lot of projects… But you know like a lot of them when they’re doing interviews they’ll say, “Okay I’ve got about five minutes, I’ve got about three minutes,’ We were there two hours and I don’t think he wanted us to leave then… But we knew a lot of the same people because he had worked a lot with Debbie Reynolds and my husband and I…were really good friends with Debbie… So it was very, very nice. So my opinion of Rich Little is that he’s a magnificent talent and a lovely, lovely gentleman!”
For more information on Rich Little please visit:
To procure the Book of people he has known and been, simply click:
And to visit, visit online, or virtually behold the Hollywood Museum, please mouse kiss: