If you’re into celebrity trivia from the 1970’s and earlier Rich Little’s Christmas Carol will have you laughing from start to finish over all the sly jokes and riffs that abound in this Canadian- made special. For those unfamiliar with Little he was the Frank Caliendo of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, a first- class celebrity impressionist. The Canadian comic’s first venture into using the voices and personas of iconic celebrities as characters in the Charles Dickens classic began in the 1960’s. Part of Rich’s stand-up act was a several minute sendup of A Christmas Carol with John Wayne, Jack Benny and other figures playing roles in the famous story.
In 1979 Little expanded the story into an hour-long television special in which, through the aid of trick photography, costumes and makeup, he impersonated all of the entertainment legends that he worked into the Yuletide epic. Here is a rundown of the celebrities that Rich Little appeared as in this enjoyable Christmas special:
For the central role of Ebenezer Scrooge Little impersonated W.C. Fields, the whiskey- soaked and curmudgeonly comedian whose misanthropic humor made his persona perfect for the role. Little impersonated Hollywood Squares mainstay Paul “The JM J Bullock of his time” Lynde in the role of Bob Cratchit and long-time Tonight Show host Johnny Carson as the cheerful and charming Nephew Fred. Rich did a turn as Laurel and Hardy as the Charity Solicitors to round out the “cast” for the opening scene at Scrooge and Marley’s.
Up next Little did his killer impression of Richard Nixon as Marley’s Ghost, a spectral figure bound in the Watergate Tapes instead of the usual chains. Humphrey Bogart as Casablanca‘s Rick Blaine was Little’s choice for the Ghost of Christmas Past, setting up the classic exchange – W.C. Fields: “Long past?” Bogart: “No, your past, shweethaaart.” The hits keep coming in this segment with THE Groucho Marx as Fezziwig and Jimmy Stewart as Dick Wilkins, Scrooge’s fellow employee at Fezziwig and Company. Best of all there’s no Belle slowing down the comedy with romantic dialogue.
For the Ghost of Christmas Present Rich Little did a flawless sendup of Peter Falk as Lt Columbo, a figure that should be familiar to modern audiences through the still- popuolar reruns of his detective show. Little appeared in drag as Jean Stapleton’s iconic character Edith Bunker for the role of Mrs Cratchit and, in a hilarious bit, author Truman Capote as Tiny Tim.
Impersonating Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was Little’s only real misstep. The choice may sound good but it becomes tedious with Little doing too many forced pratfalls as Clouseau and too little of the clever dialogue which had carried the story up until this segment of the show. Given the ghastly nature of this Ghost in A Christmas Carol a Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff impression might have worked better. For that matter, Rich did a great Clark Gable impression and that might have at least provided more comic variety than the repeated tripping and falling the audience must endure from Little/Clouseau.
The three businessmen in the Christmas Yet to Come sequence, the figures who are decidedly unmoved by Scrooge’s death, are brilliant quick bits of Little doing James Mason, George Burns and John Wayne. In Little’s earlier Christmas Carol standup routine the Duke had appeared as the little boy in the Christmas Morning scene and if you picture Wayne’s voice saying “The one as big as me” you get the idea. Here Little uses Jack Benny as the boy sent to buy a turkey for Bob Cratchit, a wise change from his standup routine in which Benny was the Scrooge figure. Rich Little’s halting way of speaking as Jack Benny would have gotten annoying if he used him as the central figure for an hour-long special.
The final celebrity that Little works into the story is Dean Martin but I won’t spoil the closing joke by telling you the context. If you can tolerate a few goofy songs and have a working familiarity with the figures that Little impersonates throughout this special you will definitely enjoy all the obscure riffs. If not, this would probably be a Carol that you should avoid unless you’re as obsessive as I am about tracking down every possible variation of this story.
FOR MORE VERSIONS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL CLICK HERE: http://glitternight.com/category/a-christmas-carol-2/
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