Counterfeit Bill bets on George


Impersonators: Pat Rick, a President Clinton impersonator, knows the end is coming. But he hopes to stay in the business by managing a Bush look-alike.

May 16, 2000|By Dennis McLellan | Dennis McLellan,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - As Bill Clinton winds down his presidency, a 52-year-old medical-equipment salesman in California shares his lame-duck status.

That's because Pat Rick has spent Clinton's two terms in the White House parlaying his resemblance to the nation's 42nd president into a lucrative, if fleeting, job.

Rick has worked almost full-time since 1992 doubling as Clinton at corporate meetings, political fund-raisers, in films and on television shows, including "Murphy Brown," "The Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

Then, in the fall, he got an e-mail from Brent Mendenhall of Nevada, Mo., a fledgling George W. Bush impersonator who had discovered Rick's Web site, "Hey, Bubba, I'm going to replace you in about 14 months," wrote Mendenhall, who was thinking of turning professional and wanted Rick's advice.

Rick saw the missive as an opportunity, "knowing full well that with Clinton's departure from the White House in January 2001, requests for my services will take a nosedive immediately."

So Rick "crossed political lines" to manage Mendenhall, a 50-year- old construction-company owner who won't be the only Bush look-alike if the Texas governor wins. "They will come out of the woodwork. It always happens," says Janna Joos, who manages International Celebrity Images, an agency in Los Angeles that handles more than 800 celebrity impersonators, one of at least seven such firms in Southern California.

In the highly competitive field of celebrity impersonators (Joos alone handles 20 Elvises, eight Bill Clintons and five Hillary Clintons), political look-alikes are in great demand, particularly during an election year. Rick has shared the stage with look-alike Bob Doles, Ross Perots and Dan Quayles, but hasn't yet encountered a faux Al Gore.

A top impersonator with the look, voice and mannerisms of a sitting president can earn six figures annually working full time, and more if he lands a European television commercial or high-profile corporate work.

Corporate gigs, where organizers pull out all the stops to pull off a spoof by hiring a limo for the president with people dressed as Secret Service agents, may pay a top-notch chief executive impersonator $4,000 to $10,000 for a 10-minute performance. "It's a risk," says Rick. "Brent is making a significant investment both financially and in his time and effort in hopes that in November the new guy is George W. Bush. Otherwise, he will have had sort of a fun ride during election season and will disappear into the woodwork."

In taking Mendenhall under his wing, Rick is giving him the benefit of eight years' experience portraying a presidential icon. The political odd couple appeared together for the first time at a cellular and paging communications seminar in San Antonio in October.

Rick also lined up Mendenhall's TV debut in January, a "Tonight Show" segment featuring Mendenhall filling a time capsule with a six-pack of beer, a bong, a mirror with a suspicious white substance on it, and a book titled "World Leaders for Dummies."

In February, the pair traveled to New Hampshire to promote themselves during the primary and got more than they bargained for. "We got snowballs thrown at us at the Gore headquarters in Concord," says Mendenhall, who also managed to fool, however briefly, Bill Bradley when the Democratic candidate was walking through a hotel lobby in Manchester. "Pat went over and said, `Have you ever met the governor?' Bradley turned around and we were shaking hands, and about two seconds into it he figured he had had it pulled on him," Mendenhall said.

In March, Mendenhall flew to Los Angeles for the ninth annual Reel Awards, a showcase for professional and fledgling look- and sound-alikes sponsored by Joos' agency.

At one point, Mendenhall, in a dark gray suit, red power tie and burgundy leather cowboy boots, was having an on-camera summit meeting with "Dolly Parton," a boom mike hovering overhead, as fellow look-alikes were drawn to the glare of the TV light. "What's up, Georgie baby?" bellowed a boa-wearing "Jesse Ventura," sidling up to Mendenhall. "Do you know this guy?" the bandana-wearing Ventura look-alike said to Mendenhall, as a poofy-haired "Donald Trump" joined them. Soon, Mendenhall was reeling off his best George W. lines. "They say my campaign is controlled by powerful interests. I just wish you'd all leave my mother out of this."

Offering his standard response when asked about drugs, Mendenhall thrust out a forefinger and said, "Now, I've taken several big hits on this drug issue ..."

Eyeing his protege, Rick grinned and said, "I think I've created a monster."

When Rick started impersonating Clinton a decade ago, he thought it was going to be a short ride. "But it's been a lucrative sideline because I've done it as a business and not just a hobby. Many of the look-alikes just don't know how to take it to the next level and negotiate bookings and contractual agreements for personal appearances."

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