Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In a World Where Don Lafontaine Has Passed On

Don LaFontaine, legendary voice over announcer for movie trailers, passed yesterday at the age of 68. The cause was a blood clot in his lungs. His distinctive, instantly recognisable, sonorous voice earned him the nickname "the Voice of God." His prolificness in doing voice overs for trailers resulted in him being called "That Announcer Guy from the Movies."

LaFontaine was born in Duluth, Minnesota on August 26, 1940. He enlisted in the United States Army to learn to become a recording engineer. He started his career as a recording engineer and copy writer with Floyd Peterson at National Recording Studios. It was there that he worked on the radio promos for Dr. Strangelove. Petersen and LaFontaine later formed their own company, where between them they coined many of the cliches of modern day movie trailers (with which LaFontaine would become forever identified) "In a world where...," "Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no way out," and "a one man army."

It was in 1964, when a voice over announcer did not show up for a radio promo for the movie Gunfighters of Casa Grande that he found himself doing the voice over himself. The client, the studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, like his voice over and LaFontaine soon found himself in demand as a voice over announcer. He later became the head of production of trailers at Kaleidoscope Films Ltd. In 1976 he founded his own company, Don LaFontaine Associates.

From 1978 to 1981 he worked exclusively for Paramount. Afterwards he would return to being an independent. In addition to movie trailers, LaFontaine also did voice over work for television promos (he worked for NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, UPN, TNT, TBS, and the Cartoon Network), television commercials (including ones for Budweiser, Coke, Chevrolet, Ford, Pontiac, and McDonalds), and TV shows, including Entertainment Tonight, 79th Annual Academy Awards, and America's Most Wanted. At his peak LaFontaine could do as many as 60 voice overs a week. In all, he did over 5,000 movie trailers and almost 350,000 commercials. Among the movie trailers he worked upon were The Godfather II, The Elephant Man, The Terminator, The Untouchables, Batman Returns, and The Simpsons Movie (in which he parodied his own style as well).

LaFontaine's fame as a voice over announcer would also earn him cameos and guest appearances on TV shows. He appeared in the movie Time Walker, lent his voice to the IBC Promo Announcer in Scrooged, narrated A Man Called Sarge, and even parodied himself on The Family Guy, and American Dad. He made a rather famous appearance in a Geico commercial, where he was referred to as "that announcer guy from the movies."

Don LaFontaine has been called "The King of the Voice Overs," and with good reason. He is perhaps the most recognisable voice over announcer for movie trailers of all time. In fact, he is perhaps the first individual in the history of cinema to become famous for providing voice overs for trailers. It was not enough that he had a great voice and knew how to use it. LaFontaine also wrote much of his own copy, and with Floyd Petersen created many of the cliches still found in trailers today. It is no wonder when the media had to interview someone about movie trailers, he was the first one they talked to. Don LaFontaine was a legend and an influential man in his field. Going to the cinema won't be the same without hearing his voice on the big screen.


Jim Marquis said...

Nice title!

Toby O'B said...

J. Marquis is right, it is the perfect title. Too bad it had to be used.

The best thing about the Geico ad, as well one he did for the NY Lottery (which featured the announcer Jeopardy and Ed McMahon), was that the audience finally got to see his face and learn his name.

If somebody put out a DVD collection of movie trailers featuring Don LaFontaine's voice, I'd pick up a copy!

He'll be missed.