Plus: Marie Little, Ed Sullivan, Judy Garland and more...
What can one say about a legend? How can this writer let people know what kind of a guy Rich Little really is? Simple. Do some research and then interview your friend of approximately 30 years, as if this was the first time we have ever talked. So, that’s what I’ve done. Hope you enjoy.
Little will be performing this Saturday, July 10, in The Club at The Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas at 8:00 p.m.
Little was born on Nov. 26, 1938, in Ottawa, Canada, to Dr. Lawrence Little (he passed away in 1957) and Elizabeth (who died in 1998 at the age of 94). Rich shared his birth date with his friend of more than 35 years, Robert Goulet. Rich was the middle of three sons, Fred the eldest and, Chris, who died in 2004.
As a teenager, Little began entertaining his fellow students with impressions of local and national (Canadian) politicians. He would also use his ability to do voices of famous entertainers to get dates with the cute students, by calling them on the phone, and talking to them as if he was their favorite actor. The trick worked. “I had lots of dates, but they would usually end early when I showed up.”
Around that time (1952), he met another teenage impressionist in school, Geoff Scott, and the two decided to team up. By the time 1955 rolled around, the two teenagers were performing in nightclubs around Ottawa, and gaining quite a reputation..
In 1955, Little and Scott heard Ed Sullivan would be bringing his CBS television show, “Toast of the Town,” to Canada. Rich tells the story of how he and Scott (filled with thoughts that they were the best impressionists in Canada) snuck into the theater and cornered Sullivan in his dressing room. “Mr. Sullivan allowed us to do a short audition, while he was doing makeup. He was very nice and told us to, ‘Come back in 10 years.’” “We thought that was wonderful. Well, we learned latter, that was like the kiss of death,” Rich laughed.
Rich and Scott decided to break up the act soon after the Ed Sullivan encounter. Little began acting in little theatre productions, and also become a disc jockey, enriching his time on air with frequent impressions Rich recalled. Scott went on to indulge his dream of one day becoming a major force in Canadian politics, and in 1978, was elected as a Member of Canada’s Parliament, where he served for 15 years, losing during the 1993 elections.
In 1963, an American singer was listening to the radio and heard Little doing some amazing impressions. Mel Torme, who at the time was producing a new television show for Judy Garland, asked Rich if he would come to the states and do an audition for him. Little (as, they say in showbiz, killed) and he made his American television debut in 1964 on CBS’s Judy Garland Show. Rich had a special impression up his sleeve—he would do James Mason as Norman Maine from the 1954 movie, “A Star is Born,” starring Judy. His impression litterally thrilled the great singer, and from that memorable performance, Rich Little has never looked back.
In 1965, exactly 10 years after the audition in Canada, Little made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (Toast of the Town), in the same episode singer Jerry Vale performed on. Rich returned in 1967, in a show where Nancy Sinatra sang her chart-busting hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” Little made two more Sullivan appearances in 1967 and 1970.
This writer remembers attending a very special showing of a new concept produced by Little, in the main showroom at the Paris Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, near the end of 2002. It was titled “Rich Little Does the Presidents.” I still personally, believe this was one of the best shows I’ve had the privilege of seeing. It involved Little doing nine Presidents from John F. Kennedy, including Richard Nixon, James Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Busch, in full costume, and make-up in front of nine different Oval Offices. It ran for a month at Paris, and then Rich took it on the road for three months in 2003.
Something a lot of the general public is unaware of is that Rich Little is a prolific artist. His charcoal drawings of celebrities, numbering about 30 (most of whom he knew or knows personally), including Presidents, are so darn perfect--it’s like you’re actually looking at the person. You can see some examples by going to www.richlittle.com and clicking on art works.
As most people are aware of (I’m pretty sure of this statement), Little is known as “The Man of a 1000 Voices.” And, indeed, he can do that many voices, ranging from Prime Minister Winston Churchill to President George W. Bush, with all the celebrities in the world in between. One of his favorites was his long-time friend, Jimmy Stewart, who passed away in 1997.
For nearly two years, Little has been working on a play using the voice of Jimmy Stewart as the main character, with the voices of many of Stewart’s friends coming in and out of the play. “I broke it in at a theater in New Mexico and it got good reviews,” Little said. “I’m still tweaking it,and when I feel it’s perfect, I may bring it to Vegas like I did The Presidents.”
Rich Little is a giving man. He and his wife, Marie are involved in many charities including the Rich Little Special Care Nursery in Ottawa, Canada, Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Child Haven, Heart Association of Las Vegas, Lied Animal Shelter, Southern Nevada Rape Crisis Center and Ronald McDonald House to name a few.
Rich Little is also one of the few entertainers to be honored with a star in four different locations: The Hollywood Walk of Fame, Palm Springs Walk of Stars, Toronto Walk of Fame and the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. On December 13, 2009, Marie Little was honored with her own Las Vegas star, for her Humanitarian Achievements.
So, now, I hope you have learned something new about Rich Little, a fabulous performer who, after more than a half-a-century, continues to entertain with the same enthusiasm he and Scott had when they cornered Ed Sullivan in his dressing room in 1955.
That’s it for this week. I’m outa here!