Rich Little is a Canadian citizen, so he won't be voting for a successor to Ronald Reagan in November. But he says he favors George Bush.
"He has a better voice than Dukakis."When you're an impressionist, politics pale beside more crucial presidential attributes - like maybe a Georgia drawl or a tendency to nod and say "Wellllll." If you're a really great president you might even chronically scrunch up your shoulders, dart your eyes around like a weasel and say "I want to make this perfectly clear."
Neither Bush nor Michael Dukakis promises much in the way of great material for an impressionist. But of the two, Bush has a voice that's a little easier to imitate, says Little.
"I did a Bush imitation for Bush himself last week," Little told the Deseret News in a phone interview. "His wife said that on a scale of 1 to 10, it was about a 5."
Mostly, of course, Little does 10s. His impressions are so realistic that he has been hired by studios to dub the voices of stars who for one reason or another could not complete the filming of a movie or a TV series. He was Chief Inspector Clouseau after Peter Sellers died during the filming of "The Trail of the Pink Panther" and was Mike Hammer after Stacy Keach was thrown in jail on drug charges.
Little has over 200 voices in his repertoire, and he will be bringing many of them to Provo Saturday night for the "Stadium of Fire," the most elaborate of Provo's 26-event "America's Freedom Festival." The panorama, held at BYU's Cougar Stadium, also includes TV celebrities Mary Hart and Emmanuel Lewis, the Osmond Brothers, the Osmond Boys and an international fireworks competition. Tickets are $15, $10 and $7.
Little will bring many of Utah's favorites to the extravaganza, including Willie Nelson, Miss Piggy and Neil Diamond. He will leave Dr. Ruth at home.
"I was talking to Bob Hope," Little explains, "and he told me I have to keep it squeaky clean." Last year Hope caused a stir when some Freedom Festival fans objected to a couple of the comedian's off-color jokes.
Stadium of Fire producers - Alan Osmond Productions - will be relieved to know that Little plans his finale to be a "tribute to America," using the squeaky clean voices of John Wayne, James Cagney and Charlton Heston.
Little says his material is generally not very offensive anyway, even to the people he is imitating. There's a fine line between imitating and making fun of, and Little seems to be able to cross over it without being mean-spirited.
"Reagan is one of my biggest fans," he says. "He has a tremendous sense of humor. He'll even laugh at a memory joke, as long as it's not too bad."
Richard Nixon, on the other hand, never seemed to find Little's Nixon impressions very amusing. "I performed in front of him and just got stared at. . . . I don't think he has the greatest sense of humor."
Little has been doing his three-dimensional caricatures since he was a schoolboy in Ottawa, where he would respond to his teachers' questions in their own voices.
"My parents never had to go to the movies because I would come home and act out all the parts for them," he recalls.
He won a Canadian TV talent contest at 17 and by his early 20s had already produced "My Fellow Canadians," which has turned out to be the best-selling comedy album in the history of Canada.
His most recent album is "Ronald Reagan Slept Here," which features not only an out-of-touch Reagan but also an officious Oliver North willing to take the heat for everything from the Alamo to Pearl Harbor, and even the movie "Ishtar."
In one scenario, Betsy North tries to talk to her husband about their dinner plans. Did the colonel tell Reagan what the menu would be? What menu, asks North. "This is the first I've heard of it." In the end, North heads for the kitchen proclaiming: "I consider it my duty to shred the lettuce."
North is one of the more inimitable/imitable characters to come along in a while, and after two or three days of watching him on TV, Little got the earnest croak in the voice just right. But that was last summer. Little figures that nobody wants to hear an Oliver North impression this summer. The comedian had also just about gotten Robert Dole down pat when the senator dropped out of the presidential race. Those are the occupational hazards of being an impressionist.
Little says that the project he is most excited about now is his first video, which will be out in August. He says it will include some of his best pieces, such as Jack Nicholson giving a press conference and Ronald Reagan playing Trivial Pursuit.
You won't find any impressions of the newer breed of actors on the video - actors like Tom Hanks or Rob Lowe. They just don't have the imitable mannerisms of a Jimmy Stewart or a Cary Grant, says Little.
Maybe the whole world is just getting blander. A world in which George Bush and Michael Dukakis will fit right in. And one that makes an impressionist have to work extra hard.