Life for Rich Little, one of three sons of a prominent Ottawa physician, began just before the outbeak of the Second World War. Life for Little the performer began when he was 12 years old. At school he would entertain his friends and try out new voices. It`s safe to assume there were plenty of startled expressions when he began to answer his teachers’ questions in their own voices. This brought the idea of class clown to a whole new level. In a novel approach to getting a date, he would find out a girl`s favorite actor and call her up imitating the voice. It hardly ever failed. Teaming with a friend, he earned his first payment as an impressionist when he was just 17 years old. The pair won a talent contest on a Canadian television show and went on to appear on variety programs throughout Canada. He later went solo.
In the 1950s, Little started working some of the small clubs in and around the nation`s capital, which sits just across the Ottawa River from the mainly French-speaking province of Québec. Once he accepted a booking in Québec and had launched into his act when the blank stares he was receiving made him realize his audience wasn’t understanding a word of what he was saying. The quick thinking entertainer decided to do walks. As he recalled in an interview, “I did Jack Benny’s walk. Bob Hope’s walk. John Wayne’s walk. They all walk the same in French as in English.” In addition to night club work, Little became a successful disc jockey and talk-show host at an Ottawa radio station where he used his multi-voice talent to create all kinds of fun. On one April Fool`s Day marathon he became Jimmy Durante for the morning show, James Mason was a rock ‘n’ roll deejay and Elvis Presley hosted the afternoon program. Some 500 autograph-hungry Elvis fans besieged the station thinking he was really there. As an actor, Little performed in some 40 productions with the Ottawa Little Theatre over a period of 10 years. But his career began to reach a wider audience when, still in his early 20s, he recorded his first comedy album My Fellow Canadians. It became the best-selling comedy album in Canadian history and made him famous across Canada.
It was around this same time that the singer Mel Tormé, then on the production team of the Judy Garland Show at CBS television, asked him to make an audition tape. Stretching a little he decided to avoid the usual people most impressionists could do, and instead taped the voices of Fred MacMurray, Dana Andrews, James Mason and Van Heflin. The great Judy Garland loved it and he was signed to be a guest on her show. It was 1963 and Rich Little had made it to the Big Time. He never looked back, but he never forgot his beginnings either.
Rich Little, known around the world as the undisputed master of mimicry, has gained international recognition as one of the most gifted and popular performers in the entertainment business. With a repertoire of more than 200 characters, he has headlined all the entertainment capitals of the world: Atlantic City, Las Vegas, New York and London, England. His portrayals of personalities range from Humphrey Bogart, Dr. Ruth Westheimer or Kermit the Frog to President Bill Clinton. In fact, Little can be the voice of every President since John F. Kennedy, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and both Bushes. He also mastered the voices of many presidential candidates including Bob Dole and Ross Perot. Infamous for his skewering of political figures, Little has charmed, amused, annoyed and lampooned Canadian politicians too.
In addition to appearing on countless variety shows over the years, including those hosted by Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Mike Douglas, Dean Martin, as well as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, The John Davidson Summer Show and The Julie Andrews Show, he was an early guest host on The Tonight Show, hosting the program 12 times. Little also starred in his own weekly series, The Rich Little Show, and on the show Kopy Kats. He has appeared on soap operas and numerous television dramas. He has made three HBO comedy specials, including Rich Little`s Christmas Carol, in which he played all the roles of the Dickens classic, winning top prizes at the Montreux Festival in Switzerland and earning an Emmy Awafd in the United States. He has appeared in several movies, including starring as Johnny Carson in the HBO movie The Late Shift.
Over the years, Little has been active with children’s charities. He was co-host of the Canadian division of the Children’s Miracle Network. He was inducted into the Miami Children’s Hospital International Pediatrics Hall of Fame for his charitable work there, and in 1983, the Ottawa Civic Hospital named an expanded nursing facility the Rich Little Special Care Nursery.
He has twice received the Cleveland Amory Award as Best Guest on a Television Talk Show and was named Comedy Star of the Year by the American Guild of Variety Artists. In June 1998, he received his star on the Canadian Walk of Fame to go along with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On the occasion of Ottawa’s 150th anniversary, he was honoured as one of its most famous citizens.
Rich Little lives in Las Vegas and maintains his Canadian citizenship.
Go to Rich Little’s filmography.
The photo of Rich Little was scanned from an original in the Northernstars Collection.