Rich Little: 'Back in the 70s everyone (in Hollywood) was Republican'
In "Little by Little: People I've Known and Been," legendary impersonator and comedian Rich Little looks back on the myriad of celebs he's known -- and impersonated. The Canadian-born comic is a classic movie buff fond of doing Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne but he's also includes Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood among his repertoire. Little, 78, spoke to FOX411 about his new book and some of his favorite stars.
FOX411: You became a U.S. citizen in 2010.
Little: I was born in Canada and I thought this country's been so good to me down through the years that I should become an American citizen and I realized that you can become a dual citizen and I was sworn in here in Las Vegas.
FOX411: What was Hollywood like politically in the 70s?
Little: Back in the 70s everyone was Republican. John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny, Glenn Ford, Debbie Reynolds, they were all conservative back then. I don't know when it turned around. Back then Hollywood was conservative. It's the opposite now. I'm a Canadian. I don't know whether I'm a Republican or Democrat. I vote for the person more than the party and I think most people do too.
FOX411: What brought this book about?
Rich Little: Well, I've had a fantastic career and met a lot of great people and had a lot of funny things happen along the way and I kept a diary and when I looked through it I thought, 'I've got enough for a book here' so I decided to write a book about the humorous things that have happened with me and celebrities. It's not a bio.
FOX411: So tell me some funny encounters.
Little: Well my favorite was Ronald Reagan. We had a great rapport. I was at the White House many many times performing for him. And got to know him quite a bit. We'd chat a lot after I'd perform. He had a marvelous sense of humor. It was almost like talking to Bob Hope. When he wasn't being serious he liked to tell jokes and see the humor in almost everything. We would sit around sometimes and talk about movies.
I asked him once because I'd read it, 'Is it true that you were once considered to play the lead in 'Casablanca?' And he said to me, 'No, that's not true. I think they were set all along with Ingrid Bergman.'
We'd talk about movies, the old days of Hollywood. I remember he once did impressions for me. He did John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart and then he did Truman Capote for me which was rather interesting. I have some great memories of Reagan. Another of my favorites was Jimmy Stewart. I got to know him very well. We did a lot of things together.
FOX411: Who else were your favorites to impersonate?
Little: Well, I liked Jack Benny, George Burns, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby. They were all favorites of mine as a kid growing up. I never dreamed I would eventually get to know them and work with them. Don Rickles, I think he was the funniest man that ever lived. He was so quick and fast. He's still good but he's slowing down as we all do as we get older.
FOX411: Who disappointed you when you met them?
Little: Remember Paul Lynde from 'Hollywood Squares?' Very funny man with his one-liners but he was a strange man. He didn't like my impression at all. It kind of was embarrassing because everyone else did. He'd always say, 'Who's that? That's disgusting! Get a day job!' But he was funny.
The first time I did Richard Nixon in front of him he didn't know who I was doing, which was kind of embarrassing. I did Nixon at a garden party in San Clemente back in the 60s and everybody gathered around and I was doing my Nixon right in front of him and he turned to his wife Pat and said, "Why is this young man speaking in this strange voice?"
FOX411: Did he have zero sense of humor?
Little: He had zero sense of humor. Yep. He wore the same black suit I think every single day, and unfortunately he never took the hangar out of it. He was kind of square. Although someone told me he was very aware of me imitating him so at least he was curious.
FOX411: What was Johnny Carson like?
Little: Johnny Carson I think was the best talk show host ever, but he was a very private person. Nobody got too close to him. He could turn it on, he was charming and very funny, very quick but hard to get to know. He kept to himself, he wasn't very social. Even though he had a kind of sad life he made a lot of people happy.