Ron Mortanian has been responsible for bringing more than 200 celebrities to Fresno over more than a quarter of a century through his “Reach for the Stars” program. The former Tehipite Middle School teacher invites celebrities to speak to students.
He continues his star-studded work with “Reach for the Stars” fundraisers on Friday, with proceeds of his latest event going to the California Armenian Home.
Mortanian knew exactly who he wanted to headline the fundraiser – Rich Little, the man of a thousand voices. Little, a man whose masterful mimicry of celebrity voices has made him a popular TV guest, Las Vegas performer and standup comedian for more than a half century, will be showing off his vocal skills as the special guest at this year’s “Reach for the Stars” fundraiser to be held Friday, May 5, at the California Armenian Home, 6720 E. Kings Canyon Road.
The show starts at 7 p.m. but the doors open for dining at 6 p.m.
“I was tickled to death when he said he would come to Fresno,” Mortanian says. “I love to laugh and I believe people need to laugh. Rich is a clean comic who is funny and will appeal to everybody.”
Little’s a fixture in Las Vegas these days, appearing at the Tropicana, but his career includes hundreds of TV performances both as himself on variety or game shows plus acting parts on programs like “Green Acres,” “Mannix” and “Petticoat Junction.”
Just like a classic rock band on tour, Little’s fans always expect him to perform the voices that made him so popular through all the decades.
“I have to do Johnny Carson and Ronald Reagan. They also want me to do Richard Nixon,” Little says slipping in and out of impressions of each as he mentions their names. He’s working on new material constantly and mixes those classic impersonations with new voices such as President Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich and Anderson Cooper.
His Johnny Carson impersonation is so good, there’s a story Little heard about Carson hearing his voice coming from the bedroom where his wife was watching television. The late-night host was confused because he couldn’t remember telling the jokes. Carson found out his wife was watching “Kopycats,” a show Little hosted.
One reason Little keeps mimicking older actors and politicians is that he doesn’t hear as many distinct voices with today’s actors like George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon. Even when he does an impersonation of a Tom Hanks or Dustin Hoffman, it’s less about the actor and more about a character they have played such as Forrest Gump or Rain Man.
Little’s had far more hits than misses with his impersonations. Only comedian Paul Lynde was so upset with Little’s work he threatened to sue if he continued. Of course, Little is telling this story as if Paul Lynde were talking.
Along with his local performance, Little will be selling and signing his book, “Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been” (7th Mind Publishing, $24.95) at the Banana Republic Store in Fig Garden Village. He will be there 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
“It’s not a biography but just funny things that happened to me with celebrities,” Little says. “It was fairly easy to write because I kept a diary over the years and what I wrote triggered a lot of memories.”
Little will have more diary material when he travels to Fresno. Tickets for his show are $50 in advance (that also includes food, beverage, parking) and are available by calling 559-284-3810 or 559-284-8678.
ValleyPBS will air “Tapped Out: The History and Battle over Water in California’s San Joaquin Valley, at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 4. It is the first in a four-part series with new episodes being broadcast the next three Thursdays on KVPT (Channel 18.1).
The series examines the history of water in California from the first settlers who relied on the rivers, to the farmers who began to access the groundwater and the population explosion in urban centers that created new demand for water in the state.
Phil Meyer, CEO and president of KVPT, says, “Most of coverage has been in soundbites and events. We felt that the average viewer needed the history perspective and understanding of the different agencies in making these decisions.”
The project has been in the works for three years. The focus changed slightly in recent years as the weather changed and the drought problems lessened. The final product now looks more at what went into putting California into the water crisis.
Part one examines how for the first three months of 2017, California was in a drought emergency and a flood emergency at the same time. That kind of contrast as various parties battle for water is at the heart of the production.
Fresno native Josh Riley, who was director of sales at Wilks Broadcasting before spending the past eight years working in Albuquerque and San Luis Obispo, has been hired as vice president and general manager of One Putt Broadcasting. The local radio group owns Jewel FM, 940 ESPN, KYNO, 790 ESPN2, 95.7 The Fox, New Rock 104.1 and KJZN 105.5.
In a press release to announce the hiring, Riley says, “I’m looking forward to returning to the Valley and joining the only locally-owned broadcast group in Fresno.”
One Putt partner Chris Pacheco calls the hiring of Riley a “homecoming” while One Putt partner John Ostlund praises Riley’s experience working with local advertisers.
Because of downsizing at the Fresno Bee, this will be my last column. Thank you for reading my rants and raves for all these years. I hope your favorite TV shows live on forever. To borrow a line from “The Wonder Years, “And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back with wonder.”