Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Great Entertainer - RICH LITTLE


During the 1960s and into the 1980s, impersonators were very high on the list of entertainers. A combination of comedian and actor, they portrayed the unique aspects of well-loved celebrities. Among the popular impersonators of that time, there were two considered to be the best: Frank Gorshin and Rich Little.

Rich Little with Judy Garland
In 1964, Rich Little’s career took a new turn after his friend, singer-songwriter, Mel Torme got him an audition for The Judy Garland Show. Torme was writing special musical material for the show and asked Rich to make a recording of some of his work. Rich impersonated a number of people that few portrayed, including actors James Mason and Van Heflin, two of Judy Garland’s film co-stars.  Judy loved his work and he was hired. As a result of his work on the show, he received a great deal of attention.

In 1972 The Julie Andrews Hour boasted quite a few veterans from The Judy Garland Show, including musical director, Nelson Riddle, and writers, John Aylesworth and Frank Peppiatt. Although, it is not known how Little came to work on The Julie Andrews Hour, it is possible that the writers, Aylesworth and Peppiatt suggested him as a guest star for the show. It is also possible that Nick Vanoff , who was certainly aware of his work, brought him on board. Rich was one of quite a few Canadians working on the show. Others included the director, Bill Davis, and writers John Aylesworth and Frank  Peppiatt.

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Born Richard Caruthers Little in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on November 18th, 1938. Rich first discovered his ability to imitate others when he was in school; when the teachers called him, he answered using their voices. Later, while working as an usher at the Eglin Movie Theatre in Ottawa, Rich stood at the back of the theatre during the films and worked on his impressions of the various movie actors on the screen. Because of his continuous work and his amazing ability, in time Rich Little would come to be known as “the Man of a 1000 Voices.”

In his early twenties, Little became a successful disc jockey. While on the job, he found time to incorporate his impressions into his work. After he began working on The Judy Garland Show, his popularity grew quickly.

Being able to impersonate Johnny Carson’s voice and mannerisms made him a popular guest on The Tonight Show. Over the years, Little hosted the show twelve times. Rich Little’s impression of Richard Nixon was also a favorite with audiences. His ability to capture the voice and personality of so many well-loved personalities made him popular with the performers and audience members alike. As a result, he was frequently asked to appear on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, The Ed Sullivan Show and at other public events. During the 1980s, Little became well-known for his starring part in the continuing series on The ABC Comedy Hour segment, The Kopycats which began in 1972.

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Rich Little was a great addition to The Julie Andrews Hour. He could play any celebrity in any situation, and he did. He could also play any character. Take Julie’s middle-eastern date, Rasshmiss (sp).  Little is unrecognizable in the role and his take on the foreign language, as well as his interaction with Julie and Alice Ghostley is hysterically funny.

In many segments of the series, Rich plays from 8 – 15 different parts: Jack Benny, W.C. Fields, George Burns, James Mason, Truman Capote, John Wayne, Rod Steiger and Richard Nixon, among others. Amazingly, he is also able to hold his own as imitates some of the most famous performers singing. In one segment, he plays Bing Crosby singing with Julie Andrews; in another he plays Johnny Cash.

Another unique aspect of Rich Little’s work on the show, is watching him play a particular celebrity with that celebrity in the scene. On Episode 13, (guest starring Harry Belafonte) Little enters the stage wearing an open shirt in the style of Belafonte, and imitates him singing about a commercial break. In the Christmas episode, he plays a scene with Jimmy Stewart as Rich Stewart, Jimmy Stewart’s nephew, while he imitates the star’s mannerisms and voice to a ‘T.’

One of Rich Little’s most amazing feats occurred when he impersonated Robert Goulet’s singing, while singing with him! That had to take some nerve. If there is one question that might be asked of Little, it would be how he felt impersonating a celebrity, while working with them.

Rich Little is a brilliant actor. During the run of The Julie Andrews Hour, he often appeared in scenes with Alice Ghostley and other stars, like Phyllis Diller. In one sketch on the episode with Diller, he played Cary Grant to her Bette Davis. But of all the scenes performed on the show by Mr. Little, perhaps none was more brilliant than his portrayal of Humphrey Bogart in a scene from The Caine Mutiny Court Marshall. His portrayal of Bogie in that role is so true, so emotionally raw, one forgets that he is impersonating Bogart, or even that he is acting. It is a riveting moment and Rich Little’s performance here is pure genius.  

Three years after The Julie Andrews Hour, Rich Little had his own television variety show, The Rich Little Show. Today, Mr. Little continues to entertain the public at events all over the country. In October of 2012, he performed his tribute show to Jimmy Stewart in Stewart’s hometown, Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Rich Little’s work on The Julie Andrews Hour added a great deal to the show. But along with his impersonations, there was something else he did that made the show wonderful - he made Julie laugh.

Rich Little today

Note – All photos shown on this blog are for entertainment purposes only.


For more information on Rich Little, please visit:

Coming next: Alice Ghostley


If you think The Julie Andrews Hour should be released for the public on DVD, along with music releases of Julie and her guests, please e-mail a polite request: dan.gopal@itv.com
If you prefer, you may look up ITV in London or Los Angeles, and send a letter there. 


2 comments:

  1. I was lucky enough to see Rich perform in Indiana, PA. His impersonations and acting are still great, if not better, than they were back during his heyday. I'm enjoying your blog; your stories are very detailed, which is fun to read.

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  2. That is wonderful you got to see Rich then! I was on my way to California that day. I will keep an eye out to see when I can see him again. Thanks for the comments on the blog.

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