Since I started blogging about a year ago, I have stumbled on some great blogs that focus on old movies, film noir, music, books, and various other things that I find interesting. Some of these blog sites have hosted Blogathons, and I have participated in a few of them. A while back, the “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood” sites announced their “Made in 1938 Blogathon”. The only real rule that was that whatever you wrote about had to be something “made” in 1938. This blog is my contribution to this blogathon. I am posting a day early, but you can read the other participants blogs by clicking:
At first, I began to look at movies from that year, hoping there would be one of my favorites from that year. Then, because of the celebrity birthday page I had on Facebook, I wondered if there were any famous people born in ’38 that I might find interesting to write about. In looking over the list of celebrities, three stood out as having a significant part in my life, so I chose to write about them. I hope you find this blog interesting and entertaining. What follows is a brief salute to a great impressionist/comedian, a great radio personality, and a great actor.
Rich Little (Born November 26, 1938)
Rich Little shares the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices” with the great Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc). While they both have many voices that they do, Mel’s were more original voices and dialects for cartoons, while Rich did impersonations or imitations of real celebrities. He claims to be able to do about 200 voices, and he has had quite a career “being” other people! He even eludes to this in the title of his 2014 book “Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been…”
I remember when we first got cable TV. HBO often featured stand up comedy shows and specials. One of the first specials I ever saw was Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol. I was mesmerized by this guy! This special was like an awesome dream come true – all these big celebrities playing the different roles of the Dickens classic – except, they were all done by one man, Rich Little. Can you imagine WC Fields, Jack Benny, Peter Sellers, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Falk (as Columbo), Jimmy Stewart, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson, Laurel and Hardy, and Groucho Marx all in the same show?! He made it happen!
As a kid, not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life, and thinking I was funny, I thought maybe I could do what he did. After watching him often, and listening to him, I began to try out voices on relatives. I really thought I did an excellent Richard Nixon, but in reality, I was doing a bad impression of Rich Little doing Richard Nixon. (Later on in my radio career, while on Honey Radio I did create a few generic voices that I used on our morning show, but never anything close to what Rich has mastered!)
I was always excited when there was some new Rich Little Special on HBO, whether it was his stage act or his take on Robin Hood (which is where I first saw him do his Carol Channing, which blew me away). Every time he did a new celebrity I hadn’t seen him do, I would watch in awe. There was no shortage of people he could do.
One surprising fact that I was unaware of was one of my favorite singers played a big part in his American TV debut. He was asked by singer Mel Torme’ to audition for the Judy Garland Show in 1964. He did, made an impression (pun intended) and made his first appearance on American TV on her show. He stated in an interview that if you watch this appearance, you should watch Judy. She had never seen him perform before they taped the show and her reactions are very genuine. He went on to appear on other TV shows like Love on a Rooftop, That Girl, The Flying Nun, and Petticoat Junction in guest roles. He is probably best known for his appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Kopycats (a show featuring impressionists), and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.
Rich is often asked which impressions are his favorites. He says he has many, but the two that stand out are Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart. His Reagan is just wonderful and President Reagan loved it too! He did two albums as Reagan – “The First Family Rides Again” and “Ronald Reagan Slept Here”. I owned them both, and they are very funny (one of them features a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards)! His Reagan is a great example of how Rich can find something unique about someone and use it in his imitation. I’ll be honest, I never knew how many times Reagan started a sentence with the word “Well…” until I saw/heard Rich doing it in his act!
Jimmy Stewart was the first celebrity impression he worked on (and it is amazing). Rich was on the dais of The Dean Martin Roasts when Jimmy was the “Man of the Hour”. He got to the podium and began to school Jimmy Stewart on how to do Jimmy Stewart! After Jimmy tries to do all the things Rich is telling him, Rich finally tells him that there is no hope for him and that Jimmy was doing “The Worst Jimmy Stewart” he’d ever heard! Rich even went as far as to have the audience stand up and do Jimmy, to which Rich tells Jimmy that everyone does a better Jimmy Stewart than he did! Word is this was all ad-libbed and Jimmy, being the amazing guy that he was, went along with it all.
It would be hard for me to pick my favorite Rich Little Impressions, because they are all so good. Among his best, in my opinion, are Reagan and Stewart (just mentioned), Richard Nixon, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, Raymond Burr, Truman Capote, James Mason, John Wayne, Paul Lynde, and Johnny Carson. His Carson was so good, he was asked to play him in the movie about the David Letterman/Jay Leno feud called “Late Night”. After seeing Rich do an impression of him, Jack Benny sent him an 18 karat gold money clip that was engraved; “With Bob Hope doing my walk and you doing my voice, I can be a star and do nothing!”
How good are his impressions? When David Niven was ill, he actually dubbed in lines for Niven in a couple Pink Panther movies. He did the same for James Cagney in the 1984 film Terrible Joe Moran and for Gene Kelly in a 1991 Christmas special. I’m not sure how true it is, but some people say that there was some fierce competition between Rich and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler on TV’s Batman), who was also a good impressionist. Those sources say that this little rivalry only made Rich work even harder to perfect his voices.
In researching for this blog, I came across a quote from Rich that really made me admire him even more. He said, “I don’t like it when people imitate someone for political reasons or if they hate somebody. I’ve never imitated anyone that I’ve really hated. Usually, it’s people I admire.”
Thanks Rich, for the many laughs you provided throughout my childhood. Sorry about my Nixon impression!
Wolfman Jack (Born January 21, 1938)
Radio Legend! What more can I say?! He was one of the best. He knew what people wanted and gave it to them. He was a master at talking to his audience. He could be making you laugh out loud one minute, and crying the next. I never had the chance to hear a live show of his, but I was lucky enough to hear some of his syndicated stuff growing up. I can tell you this, I can only WISH to be as good and as talented as he was! In my 30 year radio career, I have never come close!
With the creation of the Internet and access to YouTube and other radio websites, some of Wolfman’s radio stuff is available to listen to and enjoy. I’m no dummy, I know that he must have done a lot of prep for his shows, but everything seemed so spontaneous and ad-libbed! Maybe it was, I don’t know, but I do know that it was good. His interactions with listeners were always entertaining. His random thoughts about peace, love, and brotherhood always hit the nail on the head. In this world where hatred runs amuck, we could use more people like Wolfman spreading the “love” on the air.
I got into radio because of the guys I listened to growing up (Paul Christy, Jim McKenzie, Richard D., Boogie Brian, Dick Purtan, etc…), and so did Wolfman Jack. To keep him out of trouble, his parents bought him a radio and he fell in love with R&B music. He listened to Jocko Henderson from Philadelphia, Dr. Jive from New York, the Moon Dog from Cleveland, Alan Freed (who coined the phrase “Rock and Roll”), and his mentor John Richbourg from Nashville. He spent a year at The National Academy of Broadcasting and landed a radio gig in Virginia where his on air name was “Daddy Jules”.
Three years later, he took his “Wolfman” character to XERF, a Mexican radio station that broadcast at 250,000 watts (5 times the power of any US radio station), and people listened! The station pretty much covered most of the US. The music he played (lots of great R&B) and his vocal stylings started to make news. His popularity grew and there were feature stories about him in Time magazine, Newsweek, and Life magazine. Newspapers from all over the country all wrote about him, too, wondering, “Who is this guy and where did he come from?!”
In 1972, he became the host of an NBC show called “The Midnight Special” where he co-hosted and interviewed musical guests. Director George Lucas grew up in North Carolina and was a fan of Wolfman’s show growing up. In 1973, he cast him in the film “American Graffiti” and made sure that he got a small percentage of the profits from the film. The success of the film brought Wolfman to New York to do a radio show on WNBC, but the commuting back and forth to do TV and radio became a hassle, so he moved back to California.
Wolfman Jack became the first radio DJ to nationally distribute his radio show. The show was heard on over 2000 stations nationwide and in 53 countries! Along with his radio work. he continued to do movie work and appeared on TV shows like The Odd Couple, What’s Happening, Vega$, Wonder Woman, Hollywood Squares, and Married…With Children. He also appeared as himself in the 1974 hit single by The Guess Who entitled “Clap for the Wolfman.”
In 1995, he wrote his autobiography (a must read for people in radio) “Have Mercy: Confessions of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal,” which received good reviews in The New York Times and LA Times. On July 1, 1995, after finishing a broadcast from The Hard Rock Café in Washington DC he boarded a plane and flew home. He had been away from his family for days promoting his book. He told his limo driver as they pulled in front of his house that he was happy to finally be home. He walked inside, hugged his wife, and collapsed after having a massive heart attack. He was 57 years old.
To close this section of my blog – here are some of my favorite Wolfman quotes:
“We are put on this earth to have a good time. This makes other people feel good. And the cycle continues.”
“I know it may sound corny, man, but I like to bring folks joy and I like to have a good time. I know folks like to be with someone who’s having a good time. You sure as hell don’t want to be with somebody who’s having a bad day.”
“Love is not a matter of counting the years – it’s making the years count.”
“If you do right. Everything will come out right.”
And my favorite quote, which I often used (giving him credit, of course) to close my own radio show:
“Remember to keep smiling because a smile is like a light in the window letting people know your heart’s at home”.
Thanks, Wolfman, for being an inspiration to young DJ’s like me, and for being a positive in a world full of negativity!
Christopher Lloyd (Born October 22, 1938)
When I first saw the trailer for Back to the Future, I was filled with anticipation. It was everything a 15 year old boy could ask for, action, adventure, and time travel! I’ve always been a fan of time travel stories. I have a collection of old radio shows that all have time travel as a theme. What kid didn’t wonder, “What would it be like to see my parents as kids? What would it be like to go back to the past?” I had to see this movie!
The Back to the Future trilogy remains one of my favorites (second only to the Godfather). Looking back now, I can’t imagine anyone but Christopher Lloyd playing Doc Brown. While there are great characters (and actors) in the film, Lloyd makes it all worth watching! He’s the epitome of a crazy scientist! He’s everything you expect one to be! He’s manic! He’s constantly moving! He’s always thinking and processing! In an interview he said that there were times he was so into the role that he didn’t know exactly what he had done until he saw it on screen! Believe it or not, he almost passed on the role!!
In an interview I found, he said that when he was initially contacted about playing the role, he had some doubts about it and seriously considered passing on it. He was in Mexico when his agent called to tell him that the producers wanted to meet with him. “I was anxious to do a play that I had been offered back east, and I wasn’t sure this was something I wanted to get involved in at that point.” Luckily, his future wife Carol reminded him that “I always told myself never to turn anything down without at least checking it out.” After the meeting he says he was “ready to put on the wig and hop into the Delorean!”
Doc Brown is probably one of two roles that Christopher Lloyd will forever be identified with. The other is that of “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski on the TV show Taxi. That character won him two Emmy Awards! I have always appreciated when a TV show has a great ensemble cast – Taxi was one of them. Each character stands out in their own way, and Reverend Jim never ceased to make me laugh! One of the greatest scenes in this show is when Jim has to take his driver’s test. Almost all of the gang is there while he is taking it and trying to help him. If you’ve never seen it – it’s comedy gold! Here is the link:
Christopher is one of those actors who is believable in comedy roles as well as dramatic roles. I have always felt that is what makes a great actor. He reminds me a lot of Robin Williams, in that he can play comedy for comedy, play straight for comedic effect, and nail a dramatic role perfectly. In his first movie role, as a psychiatric patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he is brilliant! It is one amazing performance!
He is one of those actors that has so many memorable roles. It would be impossible to give space to each one of them. One movie that sometimes gets over looked is the 1985 comedy Clue. As Professor Plum, we are treated to Christopher playing straight for comedic effect. In one of my favorite scenes, the characters are paired off to search areas of the house. Plum is paired with Mrs. Peacock (played brilliantly by Eileen Brennan) and he looks at her and says, “It’s you and me, honey bunch.” As strait as he says it, that line cracks me up every time! What an amazing cast in this film!
As someone who doesn’t care too much for movie remakes, I was pleasantly surprised at the Addams Family films. I loved Christopher as Uncle Fester. I always felt like the TV show was more comedy than dark comedy. The films were closer to the comic strips and I thought Christopher captured that dark comedy and mischievous aspect of the character in his portrayal of Fester. This is probably because he was a fan of the comic strip and claims to have always read the New Yorker Magazine (where the strip was featured in every issue).
Two of Christopher’s roles were so powerful they scared me! The first being that of Klingon Commander Kluge in the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. He is just so vicious, and over the top in this film. One of my favorite scenes is where one of his crew destroys a ship and he yells that he wanted prisoners. The crew member says it was a lucky shot. At this, his anger boils over and Kluge kills the crewmember. After this, he simply says “Animal.” He really does a great job of showing us how crazy the character is.
The other role that scared me was his role as Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? As much as I hated him throughout the movie, when he snaps and goes nuts at the end, wow! When he is run over by the steamroller you are almost happy! When he melts, you are ecstatic! When an actor makes you hate a character he is playing that much – he’s done it right! He says that people come up to him often and mention how much this character scared them, so I am not alone. He also says that he loves playing villains, because it’s a “license just to be as bad as the script allows you to be”.
There are many other movies that Christopher has played in that you may be familiar with, like The Dream Team, Dennis the Menace (Switchblade Sam is an awesome villain), and My Favorite Martian. He has done so much more that I wish I had been able to see. For example, in 2010, he starred as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in a Weston House Production. I can only imagine how well he played this iconic role. In 2008, he played Scrooge in a production of A Christmas Carol with John Goodman and Jane Leeves. WOW – I would LOVE to see him as Scrooge!!!! Many have played Scrooge, and played him well…but I know that Christopher’s interpretation would have been off the charts!
He continues to do voice work (my kids loved him as the Hacker on Cyberchase), television, and movies and is very active on social media. If you don’t already, follow him.
Thanks, Christopher for entertaining so many over the years! You are a treasure!
I want to thank the hosts of this blogathon, “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood”, for allowing me to participate. It was a lot of fun for me to think about these three influential men and their work, and ultimately write about them. I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.