Even if you don’t know the name, you probably know Don LaFontaine’s voice better than you do for some friends and close relations. If you’ve ever spent any amount of time at the movies, you’ve heard his voice. LaFontaine was the go-to guy for movie trailer voiceovers, having recorded narration for over 5,000 coming attractions. It was his delivery of the phrase “In a world…” that burned those three words into the pop culture zeitgeist.
Sadly, that voice was silenced over the weekend, when LaFontaine passed away yesterday at age 68 of complications from pneumothorax.
After serving in the army as a recording engineer for the United States Army Band and Chorus, LaFontaine moved to New York City and secured work with National Recording Studios. He received an assignment in late 1962 to collaborate with a young radio producer, Floyd L. Peterson, creating radio commercials for Kubrick’s Dr. Stranglove. The two worked so well they became partners in 1963, toiling away in Peterson’s apartment. During this time, the format for the modern movie trailer was developed and LaFontaine and Peterson were regarded as early pioneers, creating unforgettable catch-phrases still heard today; “In a world…”, “ a one-man army…”, etc.
The first trailer LaFontaine voiced happened by chance. The voice actor who was scheduled for 1964’s MGM Western Gunfighters of Casa Grande couldn’t make the gig, and LaFontaine was asked to fill in. He wrote a trailer from scratch; the MGM execs loved the work and his career as a voice-over artist began. He spent a few years as the head of production for Kaleidoscope Productions, one of the premiere trailer production houses, but started his own business in 1976. His first bit as an independent was The Godfather, Part II.
His voice was one the most sought-after for Hollywood film. Paramount Pictures offered him a job in 1978, heading the trailer department, and over the next three years LaFontaine embodied the “Voice” of Paramount. He left Paramount in 1981 and again worked as an independent producer, however it was a phone call from a young agent urging him to fully pursue voice-over work which cemented LaFontaine’s place in Hollywood.
Not only did he lend his talent to the film industry, but his voice was also employed by the major television networks, as well as TNT, TBS and Cartoon Network.
Some of his classic trailers include Fatal Attraction (“A look that led to an evening, a mistake he’d regret all his life”), Rambo (“They knew he was innocent, and they didn’t give a damn”), and Terminator 2 (“His enemy is the deadliest machine ever built…This time there are two!”).
But for all the seriousness his voice conveyed, he could easily do voiceovers for comedy and romantic films. He also was not above poking fun at himself as he did in a recent car insurance commercial or in the short feature below.
Additional reporting by John Gibbon.