When Rich Little was about 5 or 6, he would stand in front of his class and just ramble on, much to the delight of his teachers — until they couldn’t stand his constant chatter anymore.
“I had a great imagination and I’d go off in several directions. The teachers thought it was cute, until they finally had had enough and told me to sit down,” said Little, 72, who turned his gift of gab into becoming one of the best known impressionists in the world.
He’ll share his talents with audiences at the Sellersville Theater in Bucks County on Friday, Oct. 14.
“I would sit in class and get bored,” said Little, who was born in Canada, “and since I was always a great observer of people, I’d start to do impressions, and they would get big laughs, which I enjoyed.”
Now nicknamed “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” Little began trying out his impressions on his classmates by impersonating the voices of his teachers. He then moved on to doing the voices of local politicians and some movie stars.
“It started as just a hobby to amuse myself, but later, as I got better, I was asked to perform at various local conventions, wherever they were looking for some sort of talent,” he said.
And as his talent blossomed, Little’s impressions began to catch on, and one day he was asked to audition for Mel Torme, who was producing a new variety show for Judy Garland. The audition won him the job; in 1964, Little made his American television debut on The Judy Garland Show. His impressions of people like James Mason in A Star Is Born delighted Garland.
As his popularity continued to grow, Little began appearing on other popular TV shows as well as some of his own, including The Rich Little Show and The New You Asked For It. His Rich Little’s Christmas Carol, one of several programs he’s done for HBO, garnered an Emmy award. One of his more recent appearances on HBO was as Johnny Carson in the movie The Late Shift, which dealt with the race to succeed Carson on The Tonight Show.
Little also was seen on daytime soap operas and doing some dramatic guest shots on TV series like Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, Police Woman, Mannix and others.
Of course, perhaps nothing beats doing the voices of some of his favorite stars. ldquo;I love doing Ronald Reagan because we were such good friends and I admired him,” Little said. “I also love doing Jimmy Stewart, who was a good friend of mine. And now, some sixty years later, I find myself doing a one-man show on Jimmy’s life. I’m touring the country with it now, and I hope to bring it to Broadway soon.”
Little added that his favorite impressions are always the ones the public seems to enjoy most, including Jack Nicholson, Richard Nixon and George Burns. Some of his female impressions include entertainers Carol Channing and Katherine Hepburn and TV character Edith Bunker.
Of course, he added, some voices are much easier to do than others. For example, Frank Sinatra was difficult to get down, and it still can be tough to do.
“I knew him well, and a couple of times when we worked together, he’d give me some suggestions,” said Little. “Still, his voice is very challenging, and sometimes I still think I’m a little off.”
Politicians, Little said, also are favorites with audiences.
“Bill Clinton is easy to do,” said the impressionist. “You just talk as if you need to clear your throat. I think almost anybody can do him. On the other hand, Barack Obama is not easy to do, although he does have a certain style. Other politicians like Rick Perry are slowly coming together but, of course, all these politicians could easily fade away and I’d have to find others to do. But I will. I’m sure I will.” ••
For ticket information, call 215-257-5808.