Richard Caruthers Little (born November 26, 1938) is a Canadian-American impressionist and voice actor….who has been nicknamed “The Man of a Thousand Voices”.….who began his career as an usher at the Elgin Movie Theater in Ottawa….where he would perfect his voices while standing at the back of the theater during live performances….as he started his amateur acting career at Ottawa’s Little Theater….while winning his first acting award at the Eastern Ontario Drama Festival in Deep River, Ontario. He went on to become a successful disc jockey….while frequently incorporating impersonations into his show….when in 1963….he recorded two LPs in Canada….with the first, My Fellow Canadians, which concentrated on Canadian political satire….and featured Little and two other actors impersonating figures well-known to a Canadian audience….while the second album, Scrooge and the Stars, featured Little acting out Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol entirely on his own….while playing all the roles as 22 different Hollywood stars ranging from Jack Benny to Jack Webb.
On the strength of his club work and recordings, Little was asked to audition by Mel Tormé….who was working behind the scenes on a new variety show for Judy Garland….as the audition won him the job…. and in 1964, Little made his American television debut on CBS’s The Judy Garland Show….where he imitated various male celebrities including James Mason in A Star Is Born. In 1965, Little provided the voice for the Pink Panther in two experimental cartoons….Sink Pink and Pink Ice. In 1966 and 1967, Little appeared in ABC-TV’s Judy Carne sitcom Love on a Rooftop….as the Willises’ eccentric neighbor, Stan Parker. He appeared on That Girl in 1967 as a writer who impressed Marlo Thomas’ character with his impersonations. He also made two memorable appearances as accident-prone Brother Paul Leonardi on The Flying Nun in 1968….which marked one of his few appearances as a character actor rather than an impressionist. In 1969 he appeared in an episode of Petticoat Junction as newly engaged fiance to Billie Jo in “Billie Jo and the Big Big Star”.
Little was a frequent guest on variety and talk shows….with Johnny Carson he captured The Tonight Show host’s voice and many onstage mannerisms…and later played Carson in the HBO TV-movie The Late Shift….as Little’s “spot-on” impersonation allegedly got under the thin skin of Carson and he was permanently banned from appearing on the Tonight Show without notice or reason after his August 1982 appearance according to Little’s biography….as this claim was supported by Henry Bushkin, Carson’s long-time lawyer, who stated that nobody got under Carson’s skin more than Little. In response, Fred DeCordova, Carson’s producer, said they just weren’t interested in hiring him anymore due to his lack of new impressions.
One of his best-known impressions is of U.S. President Richard Nixon….with reprising in 1991 the role of Nixon as ideal sperm donor in Gina’s fantasies on the soap opera Santa Barbara….as during the 1970’s, Little made many television appearances portraying Nixon. He was a regular guest on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts in the 1970’s….where he roasted celebrities such as Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart and Kirk Douglas. Little was also a semi-regular on the Emmy-winning ABC-TV variety series The Julie Andrews Hour in 1972–73. In response to his imitation of Jack Benny, the comedian sent Little an 18-carat gold money clip containing this message saying “With Bob Hope doing my walk and you doing my voice, I can be a star and do nothing.” He was named “Comedy Star of the Year” by the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1974.
Little’s best-known continuing TV series was The Kopycats….which was an hour-long segment of The ABC Comedy Hour, first broadcast in 1972….which were taped in England….as these comedy-variety shows consisted entirely of celebrity impersonations….with the actors in full costume and makeup for every sketch. The cast included Little, Frank Gorshin, Marilyn Michaels, George Kirby, British comedian Joe Baker, Fred Travalena, Charlie Callas and Peter Goodwright. The Rich Little Show (1976) and The New You Asked for It (1981) were attempts to present Little in his own person away from his gallery of characterizations. Little also appeared on a second season episode of The Muppet Show.
In 1981 Little appeared in a comedy LP called The First Family Rides Again….which was the fourth and final ‘First Family’ comedy LP’s originally created by Bob Booker and Earle Doud. Little starred along with Melanie Chartoff, Michael Richards, Shelly Black, Jenilee Harrison, Earle Doud, and Vaughn Meader, making light of U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s years in the White House.
Little has starred in various HBO specials including the 1978 one-man show, Rich Little’s Christmas Carol….in which Little portrayed famous comedians in established roles such as W. C. Fields as Ebenezer Scrooge….Paul Lynde as Bob Cratchit, et al….and he has also appeared in several movies and released nine albums.
Outside of any comedic context, Little’s talent for impersonation has been used in movies when an actor’s dialogue was impaired by poor health….as when David Niven proved too ill for his voice to be used in his appearances in Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) and Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)….as Little provided the overdub as an imitation of Niven’s voice. He performed similar duties to dub an imitation James Cagney’s stroke-impaired voice in the 1984 TV movie Terrible Joe Moran….and in the 1991 TV special Christmas at the Movies by providing an unaccredited dub for actor/dancer Gene Kelly who had lost his voice. He also lent his voice to the narration of three specials which were the forerunners for the animated series The Raccoons in The Christmas Raccoons, The Raccoons on Ice and The Raccoons and the Lost Star.
In 1987, during “We the People 200: The Constitutional Gala” television special….Little personified various historical figures including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Edward R. Murrow, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr….as Little’s performance was described as eclectic when impersonating Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln….and doing Winston Churchill giving a rousing speech.
Little voices as a guest star in Futurama such as Futurama: Bender’s Game….while playing his own celebrity head by stating “This is Rich Little, impersonating Howard Cosell.” in which many times he plays a sports commentator. As of February, 2018, Little is a regular performer at the Laugh Factory in the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas. His one-hour show is a career retrospective including video highlights from his TV career….as throughout the show, he displays many of the charcoal sketches he has drawn of the celebrities he has impersonated. In 1998, Little was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
My favorite piece of this 1982 TV special featuring Rich Little’s Salute To Hollywood is when he performs 100 different voice impressions of famous Hollywood personalities in three minutes….a feat that is almost unfathomable….and each voice is so distinctly “spot on”…..as it makes this video a rare piece of “impersonation history”.