Rich Little is a Canadian-American impressionist and voice actor….who has been nicknamed “The Man of a Thousand Voices”.….while having a huge impact on television and entertainment for over 57 years….and is considered one of the greatest impressionists and impersonators to have ever lived…. which certainly is the way we feel about him here at ImaSportsphile….as we have a large number of Rich Little videos already posted in our comedy section.
Comedy – 2017 – Studio 10 Special Interview With Rich Little – The Man With A Thousand Voices
Starting when he was eleven, Little acted in two documentary movies for Crawley Films of Ottawa….as Little was an usher at the Elgin Movie Theater in Ottawa….where he would perfect his voices while standing at the back of the theater during performances. He started his amateur acting career at the Ottawa Little Theater….while winning his first acting award at the Eastern Ontario Drama Festival in Deep River, Ontario….then at 17, he and his friend and fellow impressionist Geoff Scott won a talent contest on CBOT in Ottawa….which was the first time he was paid for his impressionist skills….thus leading to an appearance on Pick the Stars, a national talent contest broadcast by CBC Television in 1956…..and that led them to appear on The Jackie Rae Show during the 1956-57 season. Little and Scott’s comedy team that performed at various local events and venues. Still in his teens, they developed a 10-minute act which they performed at Shriners’ conventions and Knights of Columbus meetings….and that is when Scott later entered journalism and ultimately politics…..as Little became a relief announcer on Ottawa radio station CFRA, before behind hired as a disk jockey on CJET in Smiths Falls, Ontario….where his afternoon-evening shift ran from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays….and the show gave him the opportunity to use his impressions on the air. By the 1960’s, Little was taking his act to Toronto….where he performed at coffee houses and other venues.
Comedy – 1972 – Rich Little Impersonates Johnny Cash
In 1963, Little issued two LPs in Canada through Capital Records of Canada….with the first being, My Fellow Canadians…..which he performed with Les Lye and which concentrated on Canadian political satire….while featuring Little and two other actors impersonating figures well-known to a Canadian audience such as Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson and Tommy Douglas….then the 2nd 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. The album was released in early November….but it had to be withdrawn a few weeks later due to the assassination of John F. Kennedy as Little had imitated JFK in the role of the Spirit of Christmas Present….and had Kennedy say the line “Scrooge, my life upon the globe is brief; it ends tonight. In fact, it ends as fast as you can say your name.”
Comedy – 2005 – David Letterman Show – Featuring Rich Little
Little’s first performance in the US was in December 1963 at Guy Lombardo’s inn and country dub in Tierra Verde, Florida….when his American career was helped by Peppiatt and Aylesworth, a Canadian writing team who had moved to Hollywood….and worked on various specials and variety series….which included the Judy Garland Show. Familiar with Little’s work in Canada, Peppiat had worked on The Jackie Rae Show on which Little made a television appearance at 17….and the team had written for Little’s Canadian nightclub act. ….and when they played a recording of Little for Garland and the show’s musical director, Mel Tormé, encouraged her to audition him. Tormé had met Little when they both performed in a CBC Television variety show in Toronto and had bonded over their love of old movies. The audition won him the job….and in January 1964 Little made his American television debut on CBS’s The Judy Garland Show….where he impressed Garland by imitating various male celebrities, including James Mason who had been Garland’s co-star in A Star Is Born. Television appearances on variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Rudy Vallee, Mike Douglas, George Burns, and Al Hirt followed over the next two years….as Peppiatt and Aylesworth also helped bring Little on to other American shows they wrote for such as The Jimmy Dean Show, The Kopykats and The Julie Andrews Hour ….while continuing to write material for his act after moving to the US permanently at the end of 1965.
Comedy – 1968 – The Judy Garland Show – Featuring Impressionist Rich Little
In Canada, Little starred in his own show The Rich Little Show, on CBC Radio in 1966. He also made his first appearances on The Dean Martin Show and The Jimmy Dean Show during the 1965-1966 season. 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 Willis’ 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….and 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”.
Comedy – 1972 – Special – I’ve Got A Secret With Rich Little
One of his best-known impressions is of U.S. President Richard Nixon….which was reprising the role of Nixon as ideal sperm donor in Gina’s fantasies on the soap opera Santa Barbara in 1991. During the 1970’s, Little made many television appearances portraying Nixon….and once performed his impersonation in front of Nixon himself….who Little says did not realize he was imitating him at all….while “wondering why I was talking to him in such a funny voice.” In 2020, he developed a one-man show around the late president, titled “Trial on the Potomac- The Impeachment of Richard Nixon”….which was based on the book The Real Watergate Scandal, Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down by Geoff Shepard….which actually alleged that there was a conspiracy to remove Nixon from office.
Comedy – 1982 – HBO Special – Rich Little’s “Robin Hood”
Little was also a semi-regular on the Emmy-winning ABC-TV variety series The Julie Andrews Hour in 1972–73…..when in response to his imitation of Jack Benny, the comedian sent Little an 18-carat gold money clip containing this message….”With Bob Hope doing my walk and you doing my voice, I can be a star and do nothing.” Rich Little 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, broadcast in 1972. Taped in England, 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.
Comedy – 1972 – ABC’s The Kopycats – Featuring Rich Little + Frank Gorshin + Marilyn Michaels + George Kirby Et Al
Little was a regular guest on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts in the 1970’s….while appearing in 24 of the specials….where he roasted celebrities such as Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart and Kirk Douglas. The Rich Little Show in 1976 on NBC and The New You Asked for It in 198, 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.
Comedy – 1969 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Special – Rich Little Roasts Comedian Don Rickles
Little has starred in various HBO specials including the 1978 one-man show, Rich Little’s Christmas Carol, which was produced by and originally aired on CBC Television, in which Little portrayed famous comedians in established roles with W. C. Fields as Ebenezer Scrooge…..Paul Lynde as Bob Cratchit, et al…..then he followed this up with another HBO special in 1983, Rich Little’s Robin Hood….in which he portrayed Groucho Marx as Robin Hood….Humphrey Bogart as Prince John….John Wayne as Little John ….Carol Channing as Maid Marion….Laurel & Hardy as Sheriffs of Nottingham….George Burns as Alan-a-Dale….and various other characters.
Comedy – 1983 – HBO Special – Rich Little In “A Christmas Carol”
In 1981 Little appeared in a comedy LP called The First Family Rides Again….which was the 4th and final of the First Family comedy LPs originally created by Bob Booker and Earle Doud…..as Little starred along with Melanie Chartoff, Michael Richards, Shelly Black, Jenilee Harrison, Earle Doud and Vaughn Meader…. while making light of U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s first few months in the White House. In all, Little has released nine albums and three HBO specials.
Comedy – 1981 – Special – Bobbie Wygant Archive – Rich Little On “The First Family Rides Again” Album
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….like when David Niven proved too ill for his voice to be used in his appearances in Trail of the Pink Panther in 1982 and Curse of the Pink Panther in 1983….as Little provided the overdub as an imitation of Niven’s voice. He performed similar duties to dub an imitation of 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 uncredited 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: The Christmas Raccoons, The Raccoons on Ice and The Raccoons and the Lost Star.
Comedy – 1973 – The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – With Guest Rich Little
In 1987, during the We the People 200: The Constitutional Gala television special, Little personified various historical figures including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Edward R. Murrow, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy….as Little’s performance was described as eclectic while impersonating Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln….and doing Winston Churchill giving a rousing speech.
Comedy – 1984 – Special – Rich Little Does The Voices Of Edward R Murrow, JFK, FDR, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Et Al
Little was a frequent guest on variety and talk shows in the 1960’s and 1970’s….while having an unofficial monthly slot on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for several years….and also guest hosted the program about a dozen times…..when he developed an impression of Johnny Carson….while capturing The Tonight Show host’s voice and many onstage mannerisms….and later played Carson in the HBO TV-movie The Late Shift. 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. Little claims in his biography that he was banned because Carson was offended by his impression….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. However, Little had been doing the impression since the early 1970’s, a decade prior to his bookings on the show coming to an end, including performing the impression to the Tonight Show’s host face when Carson was the guest of honor at The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Johnny Carson in 1973. In response to Little’s claims, Fred DeCordova, Carson’s producer, said they just weren’t interested in hiring him any more due to his lack of new impressions.
Comedy – 1968 – George Burns Comedy Hour – Featuring Rich Little Doing George Burns
Little has been appearing in Las Vegas since the mid-1960’s….when he had dates at the Golden Nugget…..and would go on to play at other Vegas venues such as The Sands….where he debuted in 1969 with a two-year contract. In 1973, he performed at Caesars Palace for four weeks as the opening act for The Osmonds…..the he then appeared at the Desert Inn with Juliet Prowse for a month in 1974. His appearances continued throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s….as he headlined at the Desert Inn for eight years in the late from 1977 and 1985…..followed by an engagement at the MGM Grand with Nell Carter in 1985…..then at Bally’s, with Charo in 1986…..and the Sands in 1991 and 1992….as well as at the Golden Nugget in 1993.
Comedy – 2016 – Las Vegas South Point Casino – Rich Little Live On Stage
With opportunities for him to work in television and film in decline, and his television work almost completely drying up by the mid-1980’s, the focus of Little’s career shifted from Hollywood to Las Vegas. The decline in his career was blamed in part on his not updated his repertory of impressions with younger voices, a fact he blames on recent generations of actors using a naturalistic delivery that makes their voices less distinctive. “It’s much easier to do Humphrey Bogart than Tom Cruise,” he said. “How do you imitate Brad Pitt? George Clooney? Wouldn’t mean anything.”
Comedy – 1984 – HBO Special – Rich Little Performs 100 Impersonations In 3 Minutes + Bob Anderson + Johnny Dark
Little relocated to Vegas in 1990, when he signed an exclusive long-term contract with the Sahara….while staging a revamped version of “The Kopykats” with other impersonators. He later moved to Paris Las Vegas, where he starred in The Presidents, a play on nine Presidents of the United States from Kennedy to George W. Bush starting in 2002. In 2004, he moved to The Suncoast….and in the early 2010’s, he performed a one-man show, Jimmy Stewart & Friends, based on the life of Jimmy Stewart, at the LVH hotel, and on tour. After the death of his friend Jimmy Stewart in the late 1990’s, Rich recorded the crosswalk messages for intersections in Stewart’s home town of Indiana, Pennsylvania using his imitation of the star’s voice. Little was the host for the 2007 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner….and although President George W. Bush was reported to have enjoyed Little’s performance….it was panned by some reviewers for “his ancient jokes and impressions of dead people like Johnny Carson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.”
Comedy – 2007 – White House Correspondents Dinner – Featuring Rich Little
Since 2015, Little has been a regular performer at the Laugh Factory in the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas…..where his one-hour show, Rich Little Live!, is a career retrospective including video highlights from his TV career and is performed five nights a week. Throughout the show, he displays many of the charcoal sketches he has drawn of the celebrities he has impersonated. Little voices as a guest star in Futurama such as Futurama: Bender’s Game, playing his own celebrity head in “This is Rich Little”….while impersonating Howard Cosell. In 1998, Little was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame…. thenin 1999 into the Casino Legends Hall of Fame….while being given a star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars in 2005…..and then in 2017, Little released his memoir, Little By Little: People I Have Known And Been…..for any way you cut the pie, Rich Little has definitely left a lasting impression on comedy and entertainment….and deserves his story and post here at ImaSportsphile .
Music & Comedy – 1982 – Rich Little – “The Presidential Rap”