Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Don LaFontaine, R.I.P.

The king of the movie trailer has died.

Announcer Don LaFontaine, whose snarling, urgent baritone graced more than 5,000 movie trailers--and countess commercials--passed away Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 68.

LaFontaine had been hospitalized in recent weeks for treatment of a blood clot in his lung. The voice artist's long-time agent said he died "from complications in the treatment of an on-going illness."

If generations of movie-goers never knew his name, they instantly recognized the voice, described as both sonorous and ominous. At the height of his career, LaFontaine provided the voice for roughly two-thirds of the films produced in Hollywood, shuttling between recording sessions in a chauffeur-driven limousine.

But oddly enough, LaFontaine never planned on becoming a voice artist. He began his career as an audio engineer and later worked with producer Floyd Peterson creating radio spots for recently-released films.

One day, an announcer hired by LaFontaine failed to show up to record a trailer for an MGM film, Gunfighters of Casa Grande. Pressed for time, Mr. LaFontaine decided to do the job himself. The studio liked the product and a voice was born.

With the advent of computer technology, LaFontaine--like other voice talents --no longer had to travel between recording studios. Working from home, he averaged seven to ten recording sessions a day until the end of his career. Along with Joe Cipriano (the promotional voice for the Fox broadcast network and CBS, among others), Mr. LaFontaine was one of the highest-paid voice artists in the business, with a seven-figure annual income.

While his voice was easily enough to secure his place in pop-culture history, LaFontaine will also be remembered for the phrase "In a world," words that opened many of his movie trailers.

Some described the term as a cliche, but Mr. LaFontaine defended its use. In a 2007 interview with USA Today, he described the strategy behind the phrase:

We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to," he said of his viewers. "That's very easily done by saying, 'In a world where ... violence rules.' 'In a world where ... men are slaves and women are the conquerors.' You very rapidly set the scene."

If you've ever worked behind a microphone, you could only admire Don LaFontaine. He was a master of his craft.


By all accounts, Mr. LaFontaine was a kind, generous man and not above parodying himself, or his profession. Along with that famous Geico commercial, he also created a memorable "trailer" featuring himself and four other top voice artists.

1 comment:

Ken Prescott said...

In a world without Don LaFontaine . . . movie trailers will never be the same.