BWW Interviews: Granddaddy Impressionist of Them All Rich Little Brings Jimmy Stewart and Friends to Escondido
Needing no introduction, popular TV star of the 60s, 70s and 80s impressionist Rich Little, who is known for his impressions of Ronald Regan, Jimmy Stewart, George Burns, Richard Nixon, among others, will appear at the Welk Resort in Escondido Wednesday February 29 thru Sunday March 4. In our interview he gives us a little preview of his latest solo show Jimmy Stewart and Friends, which he hopes to eventually take into New York.
Oh, when I was about 15 or 16 I started imitating teachers at school. Kids loved it; the poor teachers were bewildered. They didn't know why I was talking in such a strange voice.
Didn't you start professionally imitating politicians?
No. In the beginning actually I did teachers and movie stars and TV performers; I didn't do politicians until a Prime Minister in Canada came along, Diefenbaker (John), who was very stupid, very strange...everybody was trying to imitate him; I hooked on to his voice, and it went over extremely well. He was the first politician I ever did.
You had a partner in those days, correct?
Yeah, I did. We were school boys and clowned around a lot, I suppose, and did voices and stuff; it was just a hobby. When I started to make money, it became a different story. (he laughs)
You were a disc jockey as well, weren't you?
Yeah, I was. I used my voices all the time. I used to do takeoffs of movies, little sketches I had written; I did an all night show when I was a teenager. I had quite a following, because I would do so many crazy things. It was Friday night and I'd work until six in the morning. Later I joined a radio station, where I was born in Canada, about fifty miles from Ottawa, and became a permanent announcer on that.
Was The Judy Garland Show (1963) your American TV debut?
I had done a show in Toronto with a friend of mine, Mel Torme, and he got me on that show.It was just terrific. I was doing voices nobody else had done, and Judy took a liking to me, and when I did James Mason from A Star Is Born, her reaction was...she really flipped out. When you watch it today (on video), you can't take your eyes off her (she was relishing it so much).
Who's your favorite character to play?
What would Jimmy Stewart say about Congress today?
(in his best Stewart voice) He'd say, "Wow. I made a movie called Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a story of greed and corruption in the Senate. If it was made today, it would probably be called Fantasy Island.
(we both laugh) That's right out of my Jimmy Stewart show.
What would Ronald Regan say?
(assuming Regan's voice) He'd probably say, "Barrack Obama's campaign is picking up speed, but then things do pick up speed when you go down hill."
I read a review of an LP about the First Family that you did in 1981, which stated "there are too many ancient jokes and impressions of dead people." How do you feel about negative comments like that?
The best voices are the ones that are deceased. They say that about everything; "just an excuse to do impressions"! You can destroy anything if you want to. My main objective is to please the audience. When I put Dr. Phil in Jimmy Stewart, he doesn't really belong there, or Andy Rooney, but it works. It doesn't have anything to do with Jimmy Stewart, but the idea is to entertain. There are so many things I knew about Jimmy because I knew him so well, things that he told me, but somebody could say "That isn't true. He made that up." I told him a couple of years before he died that I was thinking about doing a one-man show about his life, and he said, "Rich, I don't think that's a good idea. With the way I talk, that show would be over 4 hours long." I said, "I'll speed it up a little." He said, "Oh, I'll be on a faster speed." He had a wonderful sense of humor. So did Regan...and with the two of them together...
Give us more of a preview of the show you'll be doing in Escondido at the Welk Resort.