The man who defined movie trailers

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Dead at 68.  I just heard the story this morning:

Don LaFontaine, voice of movie trailers, dies

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In this Feb. 14, 2007 file photo Don LaFontaine, a voice over actor, poses for a photo next to a Hollywood Walk of Fame look alike star given to him by his wife, in his recording studio in his Silver Lake home in Los Angeles. LaFontaine, the voice behind thousands of Hollywood movie trailers, died Monday, Sept. 1, 2008 at age 68. Associated Press © 2008

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In this Feb. 14, 2007 file photo Don LaFontaine, a voice over actor, records a commercial in his recording studio at his Silver Lake home in Los Angeles. LaFontaine, the voice behind thousands of Hollywood movie trailers, died Monday, Sept. 1, 2008 at age 68. Associated Press © 2008

LOS ANGELES September 3, 2008, 07:09 am ET · The omnipresent baritone and gravely bass undertones of Don LaFontaine’s distinctive voice had the unique ability to seamlessly embellish big-screen kisses, slice through over-the-top explosions, perfectly pair with robust musical scores, glide alongside car chases and effortlessly co-star with any A-list talent in Hollywood.

“He was the originator of the modern voiceover for movie trailers,” said voiceover artist Jim Tasker. “He is the standard for which all other voiceovers for movie trailers are measured. For the past 30 years, his voice has been the gauge for all of us in the industry.”

LaFontaine, who died Monday at the age of 68 from complications in the treatment of an ongoing illness, was the world’s most recognizable announcer, thanks to his deft diction and a popular 2006 commercial in which he melodramatically retells a customer’s mundane account of dealing with her car insurance company — all while standing inside her kitchen.

“The truth is there’s only about 15 to 20 guys in the country who can do this,” said voiceover artist Tom Kane. “They’ll do their best to fill his shoes. It’s funny. You can hear it in their voices. To one degree or another, they’re all doing their best Don LaFontaine impersonation.”

LaFontaine got his start as an audio engineer in 1965. When an announcer didn’t show up for a recording session, LaFontaine stepped in and voiced his first narration, a promo for the film, “Gunfighters of Casa Grande.” The client, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, liked his performance. He went on to voice more than 5,000 trailers in a career that spanned 33 years.

LaFontaine, who made the phrase “In a world…” a movie trailer staple, was a neutral voice in Hollywood. He worked on promos for every major network and studio, many airing at the same time. He remained active until recently, averaging seven to 10 voiceover sessions a day. Kane said LaFontaine once admitted to working 50 sessions in one day, a personal record.

“From the very beginning, Don always knew how to evoke an emotional response,” said veteran voiceover casting director Martha Mayakis. “He always knew how to create drama. The misconception people have about this industry is that it’s your voice that gets you the work, but there are plenty of people who have beautiful voices who are not working.”

For years, LaFontaine was infamously chauffeured from gig to gig in a limo — not for ostentation but for efficiency. He insisted he could work more during the day if he didn’t have to wait at the valet stand or hunt for a parking space. He would often invite up-and-coming voiceover artists to ride around town with him to learn more about the industry.

“Where else do you hear of that happening in Hollywood?” said voiceover artist Ashton Smith.

Smith once gave LaFontaine this testimonial to post on his Web site: “When you die, the voice you hear in heaven is not Don’s. It’s God trying to sound like Don.” When rereading that quote Tuesday, Smith said “I guess God is going to lose that gig when Don gets up there because Don is just that good.”

LaFontaine is survived by his wife Nita Whitaker and three daughters.

Don, know that it’s been with love I’ve been mocking you all these years.  Actually, it is more likely the guy who oversimplifies Merchant Ivory-type subtitled trailers to appeal to American audiences is a lower-cost impersonator, so I’ll look forward to your tradition having a long life in art-house cinemas.

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