Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Little was the middle of three sons. His father was a doctor. In his early teens, he formed a partnership with Geoff Scott, another budding impressionist, concentrating on reproducing the voices of Canadian politicians such as then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton (Geoff went on to become a politician). They were performing professionally in night clubs by age 17.
Rich acted in Ottawa's Little Theatre and became a successful disc jockey, frequently incorporating impersonations into his show. In 1963, he was asked to audition by Mel Tormé, who was producing a new variety show for Judy Garland. The audition won him the job and in 1964, Little made his American television debut on CBS's The Judy Garland Show, where he astounded Garland with his imitations of various male celebrities. His impression of James Mason in A Star Is Born thrilled Garland, and his popularity began to grow.
In 1966 and 1967, Little appeared in ABC-TV's Judy Carne sitcom Love on a Rooftop as the Willises' eccentric neighbor, Stan Parker. Little was a frequent guest on variety and talk shows. He cracked up Johnny Carson by capturing the Tonight Show host's voice and many on-stage mannerisms perfectly (he later played Carson in the HBO TV-movie The Late Shift). One of his best known impressions is of U.S. President Richard Nixon. (In 1991 he reprised the role of Nixon as ideal sperm donors in Gina's fantasies on the soap opera Santa Barbara.) During the 1970s, Little made many television appearances portraying Nixon. He was a regular guest on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts in the 1970s and was also a semi-regular on the Emmy-winning ABC-TV variety series The Julie Andrews Hour in 1972-1973. This particular series proved to be a wonderful showcase for Little's talents as an impressionist. In fact, because of his uncanny yet brilliant 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." He was named "Comedy Star of the Year" by the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1974.
His best-known continuing TV series was The Kopycats, hour-long segments of The ABC Comedy Hour, first 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 Rich 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 has starred in various HBO specials including the 1978 one-man show, Rich Little's Christmas Carol. He has also appeared in several movies and released nine albums. 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), Little provided the overdub. (Ironically, Little provided the voice for the Pink Panther cartoon character in an experimental 1965 episode.) He rendered similar assistance for the 1991 TV special Christmas at the Movies by providing an uncredited dub for the aging actor/dancer Gene Kelly. As a native Canadian, he also lent his voice to the narration of two specials which were the forerunners for the animated series The Raccoons: The Christmas Raccoons and The Raccoons on Ice.
Little was the host for the 2007 White House Correspondents' Association dinner. 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 (Johnny Carson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan)."
Little voices as a guest star in Futurama such as Futurama: Bender's Game, playing his own celebrity head: "Rich Little here, as Howard Cosell." Many times he plays a sports commentator.
Posted by Courtney K at 5:01 PM