Don LaFontaine

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Don LaFontaine

Don LaFontaine, center
Born August 26, 1940(1940-08-26)
Duluth, Minnesota, USA
Died September 1, 2008 (aged 68)
Los Angeles, California, USA
Occupation Voice Actor
Spouse(s) Joan Studva (1967–1988)
Nita Whitaker (1989–2008)
Official website

Donald LaFontaine (August 26, 1940 – September 1, 2008) was an American voiceover artist famous for recording more than 5,000 film trailers and hundreds of thousands of television advertisements, network promotions, and video game trailers. His nicknames included "Thunder Throat" and "The Voice of God".[1] He became identified with the phrase "In a world…", which has been used in movie trailers so frequently that it has become a cliché. He parodied his career several times, most recently in commercials for GEICO insurance and the New York State Lottery.


[edit] Life and career

LaFontaine was born August 26, 1940, in Duluth, Minnesota to Alfred and Ruby LaFontaine.[2] His voice cracked at the age of 13 and gave him the bass tones that would later bring him much fame and success[3]. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the United States Army, and worked as a recording engineer for the Army Band and Chorus. He continued in that field after discharge and began working at the National Recording Studios in New York City, where, in 1962, he had the opportunity to work with producer Floyd Peterson on radio spots for Dr. Strangelove. Peterson incorporated many of LaFontaine’s ideas for the spots, and in 1963, they went into business together producing advertising exclusively for the movie industry. LaFontaine claimed that it was this company that first came up with many of the famous movie trailer catch phrases, including his own future trademark, “in a world…”[4]

While working on the 1964 western Gunfighters of Casa Grande, LaFontaine had to fill in for an unavailable voice actor in order to have something to present to MGM. After MGM bought the spots, LaFontaine began a career as a voiceover artist.

He became the head of Kaleidoscope Films Ltd., a major movie trailer producer before starting his own company, Don LaFontaine Associates, in 1976. Shortly thereafter, he was hired by Paramount to do their trailers, and was eventually promoted to a vice president. However, he decided to get back into trailer work, left Paramount, moving to Los Angeles in 1981. LaFontaine was contacted by an agent who wanted to promote him for voiceover work. Thereafter, LaFontaine worked in voiceovers. At his peak, he voiced about 60 promotions a week, and sometimes as many as 35 in a single day. Once he established himself, most studios were willing to pay a high fee for his service. His income was reportedly in the millions.[5]

LaFontaine often had jobs at a number of different studios each day, and famously hired a driver to take him from studio to studio in order to save time finding parking. With the advent of ISDN technology, LaFontaine built a recording studio in his Hollywood Hills home and began doing his work from home.

LaFontaine was the voice of thousands of movie trailers over his career, spanning every genre. For a time, LaFontaine had a near-monopoly on movie trailer voiceovers. Some notable trailers which LaFontaine highlighted in the intro on his official website include: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Shrek, Friday the 13th, Law & Order and Batman Returns. LaFontaine stated in 2007 that his favorite work in a movie trailer was for the hit biographical film The Elephant Man,[6] though according to a response to the question on his website, he had several trailers which stood out in his mind, and he didn't like to choose one.[7]

In a 2007 interview, LaFontaine explained the strategy behind his signature catch phrase, "in a world where…":

We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to. 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.[8]

LaFontaine also did other voice work, including as the announcer for the newscasts on WCBS-TV New York, from 2000 to 2001. LaFontaine was a recurring guest narrator for clues on the game show Jeopardy![9] and appeared on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! on May 14, 2005, where he played "Not My Job" (a game in which famous people have to accurately answer questions totally unrelated to their chosen professions). The prize (for a listener, not the contestant) is "Carl Kassell's voice on your home answering machine". LaFontaine did not win the game, and offered to record the listener's answering machine message himself. LaFontaine once claimed that he enjoyed recording messages like these because it allowed him to be creative in writing unique messages, and said that he would do so for anyone who contacted him if he had the time. However, by 2007, he found the requests to be too numerous for him to take on, and stopped providing the service.[7]

In 2006, GEICO began airing an ad campaign in which actual customers told their own stories of GEICO experiences, accompanied by a celebrity who helped them make the story interesting. LaFontaine was featured as the celebrity in one of these ads which began airing in August 2006. In the commercial, he was introduced as "that announcer guy from the movies", with his name printed on-screen to identify him. He began his telling of the customer's story with his trademark "In a world…". LaFontaine credited the spot as life-changing for having exposed his name and face to a significant audience, noting, "There goes any anonymity I might have had…"[10]

[edit] Death

On Friday August 22, 2008, LaFontaine was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California with a blood clot in his lungs and was reported to be in critical condition the following Tuesday. His family made a public appeal for prayers on the site.[11] LaFontaine died on September 1, 2008 following complications from pneumothorax.[12] He is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California.

[edit] Satire and other appearances

His voice has been the subject of homage and parody, as seen in a Cartoon Network commercial for The Powerpuff Girls, the stand-up comedy of Pablo Francisco, and on the popular web-cartoon site Homestar Runner. Comedian-actress Janeane Garofalo formerly performed "an impression of every movie trailer ever made" with the words, "In a WORLD!…" saying that every movie trailer seems to begin with LaFontaine saying, "In a world…" or "In a city…"

One trailer for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines what a trailer is, saying the narrator “will normally employ a deep voice that sounds like a seven-foot-tall man who has been smoking cigarettes since childhood” and speaks in a clear parody of LaFontaine.[13] The trailer is voiced by fellow voiceover artist Ashton Smith.

LaFontaine's voice was used in Family Guy episodes "North by North Quahog", and "Brian Sings and Swings", and The Untold Story version of "Stewie B. Goode", and has been featured in musical tracks.

In the late 1990s, LaFontaine made an appearance as himself in a commercial for the Hollywood Video[10] rental chain. In the ad, LaFontaine emerged from under a counter when called on by an employee to deliver a description of a movie in the style of his trailer voiceovers, to a customer hesitant about renting the film.

He is also mentioned in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Antenna". In the episode, George Lowe bemoans the fact that he cannot get a voiceover job while LaFontaine earns "30,000 dollars a minute." Lowe attempts an impression of LaFontaine, saying, "In a world where towers rule the universe…"

On April 12, 2007, LaFontaine appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno with ousted American Idol finalist Haley Scarnato to provide humorous "movie trailer"-esque commentary, as a spoof of his Geico commercial.

On November 20, 2007, he appeared along with Frank Caliendo and Pablo Francisco, who both impersonate LaFontaine's movie trailer voice, on Caliendo's Frank TV sketch comedy show on TBS in a sketch that parodied The Three Tenors.[14]

In March 2008, Don appeared in a short comedy sketch called “Dream-A-Wish”[15] produced by online comedy group Magic Hugs.

[edit] Selected filmography

[edit] References

  1. ^ Ryder, Caroline. "Don LaFontaine". Swindle Magazine. Retrieved on 2008-09-04. 
  2. ^ Greder, Andy (2008-09-02). "Duluth's "King of Voiceovers" dies". Duluth News Tribune. Retrieved on 2008-09-04. 
  3. ^ "Don LaFontaine: The Voice". Retrieved on 2009-01-14. 
  4. ^ "Biography". Don LaFontaine's official site. Retrieved on 2008-09-03. 
  5. ^ "Ask the Answer Bitch". E!online. April 2, 2005. Archived from the original on 2006-10-10. 
  6. ^ Arrillaga, Pauline (April 2, 2007). "About Don LaFontaine". Houston Chronicle. 
  7. ^ a b "Ask Don". Don LaFontaine's official site. Retrieved on 2008-09-03. 
  8. ^ Dillon, Raquel Maria (2008-09-02). "Don LaFontaine, voice of movie trailers, dies". Entertainment News (The Associated Press State & Local Wire). 
  9. ^ "J! Archive - Clues narrated by Don LaFontaine". Retrieved on 2009-01-14. 
  10. ^ a b "Archives". Don LaFontaine's official site. Retrieved on 2009-01-14. 
  11. ^ "VO Legend Don LaFontaine in Critical Condition". Fishbowl LA. August 26, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-08-26. 
  12. ^ "Don LaFontaine Dies At 68". 2008-09-01. Retrieved on 2009-01-14. 
  13. ^ "Trailer for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Retrieved on 2009-01-14. 
  14. ^ Carter, R.J. (November 20, 2007). "Television Review: Frank TV, "Franksgiving"". The Trades. Retrieved on 2009-01-14. 
  15. ^ "Dream-A-Wish: Don LaFontaine". Retrieved on 2009-01-14. 

[edit] External links

Don LaFontaine: The Voice at YouTube

Five Guys In a Limo (Short film with Don LaFontaine) at YouTube

NAME LaFontaine, Don
ALTERNATIVE NAMES The King of Movie Trailers, Mr. Voice, Thunder Throat, The Voice of God
SHORT DESCRIPTION American voice actor
DATE OF BIRTH August 26, 1940
PLACE OF BIRTH Duluth, Minnesota, United States
DATE OF DEATH September 1, 2008
PLACE OF DEATH Los Angeles, California, United States
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