Known as the king of the voiceover, his signature deep voice was a staple of thousands of Hollywood trailers
Published 07/09/2008 | 00:00
Don LaFontaine, who died last Monday aged 68, was known as the "King of Voiceovers", recording more than 5,000 film trailers, television commercials, network and video game promotions.
His signature deep voice -- sounding as if it had been pickled in whisky and kippered by countless cigarettes -- was both ominous and sonorous, becoming identified with the phrase "In a world...", which was used in Hollywood trailers so frequently that it became a cliché. Nicknamed variously "Thunder Throat" and even "the voice of God", LaFontaine was said to have voiced about 60 promotions a week, and sometimes as many as 35 in a single day.
Within the business a LaFontaine voiceover conferred added prestige and excitement to what might otherwise have been a "snoozer" film. Thanks to his golden voice, most studios were willing to pay handsomely for his services, and his income reportedly ran into millions.
Though he was usually driven to voiceover jobs in a limousine with a full-time driver, LaFontaine latterly began recording many promotions from his own palatial estate in the Hollywood Hills to save travelling time.
As well as being the pre-eminent voice in the film trailer industry, LaFontaine also worked as the voice of the main US television networks.
He voiced hundreds of thousands of television and radio spots, including commercials for Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Budweiser, McDonalds, Coke, and recently parodied himself on a series of national TV commercials for an insurance company.
Donald LaFontaine was born on August 26, 1940 at Duluth, Minnesota. After graduating from high school, he joined the military and was assigned to the United States Army Band and Chorus as a recording engineer.
After his discharge, he moved to New York where he found work as a sound engineer and editor.
In 1962 he was assigned to a young radio producer called Floyd L Peterson, who was creating radio commercials for the film Dr Strangelove. They worked so well together that, in January 1963, LaFontaine joined Peterson, working out of Peterson's apartment.
Over the next few years, the firm grew to employ 30 people and expanded into its own building. Floyd L Peterson Inc was one of the first companies to work exclusively in film advertising. Hitherto, most film promotion was done in-house by the studios.
It was during this period that the format for the modern trailer -- previewing coming attractions -- was developed, and LaFontaine and Peterson were among the first to create the catchphrases that still dominate the genre: "In a world ... ", "A one-man army ... ", "Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no way out ... " and so on.
In 1965 a mix-up in scheduling prevented another announcer from getting to a recording session, and LaFontaine was forced to create a "scratch" narration for radio spots for the film Gunfighters Of Casa Grande in order to present something to the client, Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
To his surprise, they bought his performance, and over the next 16 years he voiced thousands of spots and hundreds of trailers.
LaFontaine spent several years as a head of production for Kaleidoscope Films, one of the main trailer production houses. In 1976 he started his own production company, his first assignment as an independent being The Godfather: Part II.
In 1978 he joined Paramount Pictures as head of the trailer department, and over the next three years became the "voice" of that studio. Leaving in 1981, he moved to Los Angeles, again as an independent producer. One of his first phone calls was from a young agent named Steve Tisherman, who urged LaFontaine to pursue voiceovers more aggressively. Having signed with Tisherman, he never looked back.
He had the distinction of being perhaps the single busiest actor in the history of the US Actors' Guild.
Don LaFontaine was married to the singer and actress Nita Whitaker, who survives him with their two daughters.