Being George W. Mendenhall's primary insights on presidential performing
* On the eve of Missouri's primary elections, a local George W. Bush look-a-like shares insights on the world of celebrity imitation.
By Lynn A. Wade
Nevada Daily Mail
To look like a celebrity, especially a president, is a "serendipitous" thing. So said a Bill Clinton impersonator in the opening lines of "First Impersonator," a documentary film about presidential look-alikes.
It's certainly been serendipitous for Nevada's own George W. Bush counterfeit, Brent Mendenhall.
The film, heavily featuring Mendenhall, was screened for a small crowd at Take A Break Java Den, Nevada, Monday night.
Mendenhall attended and added personal insights from time to time during the presentation, which began with a showing of his promotional video, which also features local radio personality Russ Warren as narrator.
Mendenhall is one of several George W. Bush impersonators and has managed to continue to capitalize on his talent and appearance far longer than Bush was in office; although once a president leaves office, there's less demand for the talents of the look-alikes.
The first prominent presidential impersonator was Vaughn Meador, who imitated President John F. Kennedy. "First Impersonator" tells of his rise to stardom, cut short by the assassination of the president. Although Meador had many other talents, he was indelibly typecast as the man who impersonated JFK, and his life took many tragic turns.
Demand for Clinton impersonators also faded quickly after Clinton left office; and a Saddam Hussein impersonator had no job offers once the United States went to war with Iraq.
The documentary revealed that they're all aware that what goes on in the world directly impacts them; that their careers are inextricably tied to the actions and fates of those they imitate.
And although there's less demand since the end of Bush's term in 2009, Mendenhall seems to keep going. In 2010 he had a small role as George W. in "Casino Jack," and he's continued to stay busy. In fact, he is scheduled to appear at a Kiwanis state convention in Macon, Ga., next week.
It's been fun, Mendenhall admits.
His mother, MaryAnna Mendenhall, who attended the screening, agrees. She and her friend, Sylvia Martin, hadn't seen the documentary before and were anxious to see it, though they know his talents well. "He's enjoyed it so much, And he's seen the world doing it," she said.
Mendenhall said he started out in 1999, when Bush's campaign for president was ramping up. He did several "jobs with the Clintons," and a prominent "Counterfeit Bill" Clinton showed him the ropes. Mendenhall knew there was a potential to make a living with such an act, and was made aware by others that "if you've got the look, and are willing to promote yourself," and hold other talents necessary to do so, "you can do pretty well."
Besides himself, there are two other prominent George W. Bush impersonators who've "done quite well." One, Mendenhall said, "Has a great look;" another, from California, seems to imitate Bush's voice impeccably -- something Mendenhall's never felt he truly achieved. "I never got it down as good as I should have," Mendenhall said; so, when he's asked to do voice work, he refers them to the Bush counterfeit in California.
He's worked in 40 states and 10 countries. He's been to Israel three times, on one occasion touring Holy Land sites by cab with others there to film a television commercial.
After the screening of the documentary, there were several clips of television commercials that featured Mendenhall as George W. Bush that the audience clearly enjoyed; but Mendenhall confided that it's not the television and movie appearances that provide the biggest paycheck. The ability to make a living with impersonations is in the personal appearances.
"TV really doesn't pay that great," but has strong promotional value and gives impersonators the exposure they need to increase demand for their skills.
He's been on shows such as "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, numerous other talk shows in the U.S. and throughout the world. "Hollywood Squares," "The X-Files," and "JAG"; and about 10 movies; and along the way, other famous figures have taken notice. From his Web site came this quote from Helen Thomas, veteran White House press corespondent and well-known liberal: "Yeah, you look like him. You even look like his father. Your eyes aren't as beady and shifty as his though!"
Mendenhall's list of appearances at political, private and corporate events is lengthy and continues to grow.
Playing on Bush's well-known mispronunciations, his comical speeches often bring laughter to the room, and did so during the screening from time to time as well.
Mendenhall signed copies of his promotional video for guests attending the screening, For more information, visit Mendenhall's Web site, www.gwbushimpersonator.com.