Comedian Rich Little had just performed his Ronald Reagan impression at the latter’s first inauguration party in 1981 at the White House.
Little didn’t have to wait long for a reaction from the president and first lady.
“Nancy said, ‘You do Ron better than he does,’” Little recalled.
“Then she grabbed my arm,” Little said, “started walking with me and said, ‘I’m going home with you.’”
The next thing Little heard was President Reagan’s voice and the words, “You can’t afford her.”
It was the first of many invitations to the Reagan White House for Little, including a Christmas party in which Little was the designated celebrity Santa Claus.
“I was handing out presents to orphaned children, and Nancy apparently didn’t know who the Santa was. I was in the suit with all the padding and the beard,” he said.
“She walks up to me and says, ‘Oh, who’s playing Santa Claus this year?’ She pulled the beard way down and let it go.” The beard’s elastic strap was stretched so far, he said, “it nearly tore my nose off. I told one of the aides, ‘I shouldn’t play Santa. I should have played Rudolph.’”
Nancy Reagan died Sunday at her home in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure. She was 94.
One of Little’s favorite memories was seeing Reagan and the first lady arrive for a tea in the private quarters.
“They would walk together and sit down together, and they were always holding hands,” said Little, a longtime Las Vegas resident.
On another White House visit, Little said he and President Reagan were talking about movies outside a dining room.
“Everybody’s waiting for coffee and dessert, and he’s telling me about the movie he did with Errol Flynn (‘Desperate Journey’ in 1942),” said Little, who headlines at the Tropicana.
“Nancy came back to get us, and President Reagan said he was telling me the Errol Flynn story and all the pranks they did.’
“She said, ‘Oh my God, Ronnie, those stories go on forever.’”
Later, she came back again and said, “Everybody’s leaving.’ The president said, ‘I’m talking about Ann Sheridan now.’”
Little said: “One time Nancy asked what my favorite (Reagan) movie was. I said ‘Knute Rockne.’ I asked Nancy what her favorite picture was, and she said, ‘Our wedding picture.’”
What’s in a name
Jason Toohey, a former UNLV football player who later played a pirate in “Sirens of TI,” named his daughter after Peyton Manning.
So did Dave Tuley, who covers sports betting for ESPN.com.
Toohey’s daughter, Paityn, got her name after her father played against Manning almost 20 years ago in Tennessee’s 62-3 rout of the Rebels.
Manning, who retired Monday after 18 seasons, “was already a big-time star and super famous even in college,” Toohey said. “After the game he had a bunch of handlers and tons of press around him. But all of us were eager to shake his hand. You had to fight through a crowd to get to him, and almost every guy on the team did.
“He was very gracious and classy to all of us,” said Toohey, who played at Newbury Park High in California and led the state in receptions his senior season.
Toohey’s daughter turns 17 on March 16. “I picked the name, and her mom picked the spelling,” said Toohey, who operates a family spa here.
She’s a star running back and wide receiver on Foothill High School’s flag football team, which went 24-2 and placed runner-up in the state this season.
“And yes Peyton Manning is her favorite player. She has both a Broncos and Colts jersey,” Toohey said.
Peyton Tuley, 12, has company when it comes to being named after a famous athlete. His sister, Jordyn, was named after NBA superstar Michael Jordan, and their brother, Maddux, 7, was named after Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux of Las Vegas.
On this day
March 9, 2005: Federal agents storm Piero’s Italian Cuisine and arrest former New York City police detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, both accused of being Mob hitmen. Both are convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
March 10, 1995: The Hard Rock Cafe restaurant chain takes its brand to Las Vegas, opening the Hard Rock Hotel with a two-night, star-studded concert featuring Duran Duran, B.B. King, Iggy Pop, Melissa Etheridge, Al Green, Sheryl Crowand the Eagles.
The punch line
“The NYPD has announced they’ll no longer arrest people for petty crimes like littering, public drinking, and urination. Which means one thing — Times Square is back, baby!” – Stephen Colbert
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. On Twitter: @Norm_Clarke