Men of Many Talents Rich Little Fred Travalena

photo by Margie Barron

At the Gypsy Awards, Betty White, Norm Crosby and Carl Reiner.

A legendary impressionist, Rich Little is the master mimic of over 200 voices. But it is another talent that will be presented at the world famous Magic Castle. Little will have his artwork on display at the Castle’s Inner Circle on Saturday and Sunday, May 22 and 23. The Sunday night showing will not only have Rich Little’s art on display, but he will also be there to talk about the portraits he’s done of icons in the entertainment world. And he will do his homage to them in their voices. “It will not be just an art exhibit, but also an entertaining tribute to the great ones,” Little proudly told me.

“I worked with the best in show business,” Little boasted. “Many became close friends when we did the Dean Martin Roasts. I admired them, and I started doing charcoal drawings of them.” Getting a peek at the celebrity portraits from every era, it was like visiting Hollywood royalty, with everyone from Cary Grant and Clark Gable, to Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan, as well as Tom Cruise and George Clooney. Little calls them “impersonations from the pencil,” and says his artistic talent is “another form of expression myself.”

As an added treat on Sunday, sharing the Inner Circle with Little, there will be a “Tribute to the Legendary Ladies” performance by British sensation Toni Morrell. She is a voice artist who salutes some unforgettable showbiz gals, such as Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and more. Little called Morrell’s show “just terrific.”

The life of another great voice artist and all around nice guy, Fred Travalena was celebrated at the Normandie Casino in Gardina, for family, friends and fans. The “Night of Laughter” tribute for the late funny man was to help raise funds for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society in Fred’s name. Called “Mr. Everybody” for his skill as an impressionist, Travalena was also a friend to everybody, supporting the USO and many other worthwhile causes. Now his wife Lois James Travalena praises friends like Rich Little, Tom Dressen and Ed Regine, who helped put together the event “because Lois explains, “Fred would have wanted to raise funds to find a cure for Leukemia and Lymphoma and help others.” Bless him.

The 24th Annual Gypsy Awards honored Carl Reiner over the weekend, and a film clip tribute featured Reiner’s “hidden” talent as a wild dancer. At the toe-tapping event produced by the Professional Dancers Society, more roars of laughter came when Reiner was “gently roasted,” with Hollywood’s new “It” girl Betty White as the emcee. Betty was deeply touched when Carl gave credit to her beloved late husband Allen Ludden for starting his career. Reiner revealed, “We were in the army together, and Captain Ludden transferred me to the Army Entertainment Section to put on shows for the troops.”

Carl also extolled the rest of the dais, noting he saw Florence Henderson light up Broadway in her shows, and fell in love with Carol Lawrence when he saw her in West Side Story. He called Dick Van Dyke “the single most talented man I know,” and noted “Norm Crosby always makes me laugh, but I always think he’s too sweet to be that funny.”

The event chair Joni Berry played host, with stunning Stefanie Powers and petite Margaret O’Brien handling intros. The group’s president Mitzi Gaynor sent a sassy video message to the crowd of “gypsy” dancers, choreographers, and other entertainers who packed the Beverly Hilton ballroom. There was a special memorial to Vera-Ellen introduced by her On the Town co-star Betty Garrett, with a fabulous film tribute put together by Lee Hale. Like the late-great leggy dancer, it was a big “Wow!”

If you want to be part of the Broadway theater scene, but you’re stuck in L.A., take heart. The 14th Annual Tony Awards Party is coming. It’s an Actors Fund benefit honoring the ultra-talented Brian Stokes Mitchell, not only for his theatrical accomplishments, but also for his leadership as chairman of the Actors Fund. The Actors Fund (323-933-9266) is a nationwide human services organization that is a safety net providing services for those in need. The gala is hosted by Tommy Tune, with presenter Annette Bening, and is being produced and written by Marc Cherry and David Rambo. It will be held on Sunday, June 13th at the Skirball Center, with a live feed of the Tony Awards from the Big Apple.

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