Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Sonorous Voice Goes Silent


The film and television industries have lost one of their biggest fixtures. Don LaFontaine, the voice actor responsible for more than 5,000 movie trailers, has died at the age of 68. Read the AP story here.

Though he wasn't the first talent to record a trailer for a feature film, LaFontaine qualifies as a pioneer in my book. Before voice actors, movie trailers had a melodramatic aroma about them. This was characterized by wipes between scenes, sappy scores, and giant letters that flew at you from out of nowhere. (e.g., COMING SOON! THE SUSPENSE! THE ADVENTURE! RONALD COLMAN AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN HIM BEFORE!) Those trailers still have a nostalgic charm, but they fail to transport you to another world the way Don's voice could.

That all changed in 1964, when LaFontaine wrote a trailer script for the forgettable western Gunfighters of Casa Grande, originally to be read by a voice actor. The actor failed to show up, leaving LaFontaine to read the spot on his own. It was the first movie trailer he ever voiced and the rest, as the old saying goes, is history.

What made LaFontaine unique was his versatility. Most voice over actors, not unlike most live actors, tend to find one comfort zone and stay within it. With effortless ease, LaFontaine continually tested his own boundaries, providing the ideal vocal milieu for virtually every film genre. Whether speaking in an ominous bass range for a science fiction thriller or growling like a chainsaw for a horror movie, LaFontaine had an unteachable gift of conveying emotion in a matter of seconds.

Equally impressive was his work ethic. When not making appearances at conventions or giving interviews, LaFontaine was standing in front of a microphone, recording as many as 35 spots a day from his home studio. His fax machine was continuously spitting out scripts for him to record until the day he died, no doubt.

Those who knew and worked with LaFontaine recall his affable personality. "I've been there to watch that [talent] grow over the years," fellow voice actor Paul Pape said in an interview. "His ego has not grown."

His amiable side also showed when he argued in favor of more movie trailer voiceover work for women. How refreshing it would be to hear feminine voices introduce upcoming movies. If the smoky sex appeal of Stevie Nicks can pave the way for gold records and Grammys, why not let female voice actors record movie trailers? A woman's touch would be perfect for romantic dramas and comedies, and even animated features.

LaFontaine leaves a legacy that has inspired generations of actors to pursue careers in the voice industry. The world still has talented voice actors to narrate movie trailers, but no one can ever replace that unmistakable voice of God. Don may be gone, but his contribution to the movies will remain with us for as long as the seventh art survives.

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