She’s not herself, and loving it
Ramona Allen will celebrate 20 years in the celebrity impersonation business this year. Fittingly, the anniversary will come on April Fool’s Day.
“I have to say that I really love what I do, and how many of us can say that?” said Allen, owner of Living Legends – a company that provides celebrity impersonators for corporate and private events. “I’ve been able to turn a hobby into a living. It’s been a great time.”
If you’ve always wanted a job in which you get to meet a lot of famous people, well, what could be better than this? On any given night you might see Allen portraying Dolly Parton, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Elvira, or a number of other alter egos. She even does a hilarious rendition of Roseanne Roseanna-Dana, the convoluted storyteller with the frightful hairdo portrayed by Gilda Radner in the 1970s on Saturday Night Live.
But Ramona, as she is known in the entertainment business, is far from a one-woman show. She also contracts out, when the event calls for more than one performer. So in addition to Ramona performing as Dolly Parton, you may also see Burt Reynolds, Elvis, or even Charlie Chaplin working the room. And hey, isn’t that Mel Gibson over there?
“It can get confusing,” said Allen, a longtime South Lake Tahoe resident who now lives in Carson City. “I was scheduled to do a performance at a hotel recently, and I was checking in at the front desk,” she said. “I didn’t have my costume on at that point. But another performer came into the lobby looking exactly like Clark Gable.
“I heard a woman turn to her husband and say, ‘There’s Clark Gable! I thought he was dead.’ Some people just literally get out of bed looking like that. I have to work at it.”
Allen got the bug to impersonate famous people in the late 1970s, when she was living in Los Angeles and trying to discover an outlet for her performance muse. She enjoyed singing, so she decided to form a singing telegram company – All-American Music Messages – where she performed songs and “corny skits.” Eventually, she developed celebrity characters and incorporated them into the act.
“I did Mae West and Dolly Parton, and soon I began meeting other celebrity impersonators,” she said. “Soon I was doing shows. … I actually performed as Marilyn Monroe at the Hotel Del Coronado, where Monroe filmed ‘Some Like It Hot.’ “
When her son reached the third grade, Allen decided it was time to “move to a safer environment.
“I was praying for a miracle in my life,” she said.
It came in the form of The Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin – actually a Chaplin impersonator who saw Allen perform and got her an audition with Harrah’s. The hotel-casino hired her for a three-month gig at Lake Tahoe.
“I fell in love with the lake, and eventually moved my business up here,” said Allen, who founded Living Legends in 1985. “I’ve been very happy here, it’s a great place to live.”
In addition to a strong singing voice, Allen has the ability to really get into her characters, a trait that is essential.
“I do a lot of research on the people I impersonate,” she said. “For Mae West, I found some of the old sheet music she used early in her career. Anybody can put on the costume, but what makes it special is getting into the little nuances.”
Her act seems to work. Once, when she met the real Elvira at a fair in San Bernardino, Calif., the crowd became so confused that they rushed to Allen for autographs instead of the real thing.
“The security people didn’t know what to do,” Allen said, laughing. “When Elvira left, she looked at me and said, ‘Wow, good job.’ “
Allen also books exotic dancers for parties under the company name of Hardbodies, Inc.
“It’s a lot of work, and sometimes it feels like I can’t keep up with it all,” she said. “But it’s a lot of fun.”
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A pair of utility companies may cut off power during this weekend due to high winds forecast for the Lake Tahoe Basin.