A Fond Farewell For The Voice That Welcomed Viewers To Theaters

Voiceover artist Hal Douglas died recently at age 89. Filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski discusses the life and work of the prolific speaker, who narrated thousands of movie trailers in a gravelly baritone.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel with a look back at a man whose job it was to tell us what to look forward to.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE TRAILER, "PHILADELPHIA")

HAL DOUGLAS: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, in a story about our lives and our humanity - "Philadelphia."

SIEGEL: Hal Douglas was the voice of that movie trailer and of many, many others. He died a week ago, at age 89. He was known in the business as a VO, or voice-over artist.

SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "A GREAT VOICE"

DOUGLAS: I never thought of it as a great voice. Very throaty - I mean, when I get it down in here, you know, it's difficult to hear me. Very - it gets into a sexy voice, down here. You want clarity - in here. You can start biting it, too; get mean with it, very mean.

SIEGEL: That's Hal Douglas talking about his work, in a short documentary. The film was made by Casimir Nozkowski. He tells me that Douglas was not one to brag about his vocal skills.

CASIMIR NOZKOWSKI: I think there are people who have talents like that who are nowhere near as humble as he is. He just was an incredibly humble person who never took his talent for speaking for granted.

SIEGEL: Yes, he described himself sort of like a shoemaker, with his voice. He had a craft, and he felt he made good shoes with it.

NOZKOWSKI: Yes, that's exactly right. He had technique. He talked a lot about meditation and being very aware of your core, of your center.

SIEGEL: Considering how unmistakable that voice is, did you actually find much range in what he did in the different movie trailers and other things that he recorded?

NOZKOWSKI: I think he did actually have a great range. He could do something as serious as "Con Air."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE TRAILER, "CON AIR")

DOUGLAS: This summer, check your weapons.

NOZKOWSKI: He was the voice for "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE TRAILER, "CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS")

DOUGLAS: Audiences everywhere are coming back for seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Can you make it rain fruit again, please?

NOZKOWSKI: ..."Waterworld."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE TRAILER, "WATERWORLD")

DOUGLAS: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, "Waterworld."

NOZKOWSKI: He was someone who could shift to kind of a heavy, dark drama; or he could give you comedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE TRAILER MONTAGE)

DOUGLAS: "Live Free Or Die Hard"... You did not just see a giant alien world..."The Saint"... You did not just see a singing dog... Imagine that... "Meet the Fockers"... But on July 3rd...

SIEGEL: I read in the obituary for Hal Douglas in The New York Times that he went into the Navy during the Second World War, came out and studied acting on the GI Bill. And I guess - I mean, he didn't set out saying, I'd like to be the voice of movie trailers. He was an actor of some sort.

NOZKOWSKI: That's right. He was - I mean, his history, you - I think you could have made - you can make a feature about him because the fact that he was a pilot, I found so interesting. The fact that he then came to New York, and he was a producer and an actor. And so he was actually - he was a copywriter, kind of in the "Mad Men" era.

He was doing a lot of commercials. And he actually did - there's a thing in the industry called scratch tracks where basically, you use your voice, you kind of make a temp version of your voice for a commercial. And he got discovered because people were like wait, your scratch is better than pretty much anyone we're using on a professional level. (Laughing) And I don't think he intended to, or planned on this happening. But it just, you know, was one of those things where he was really discovered serendipitously.

SIEGEL: When you met him in person, did he sound like the guy from the trailers, or was that the studio performance?

NOZKOWSKI: You know, I think he did sound like it. So much of it was just naturally what he was born with. But when he would speak professionally, I think he would add this kind of - there's an energy that he would give his voice.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Nozkowski, thank you very much for talking with us.

NOZKOWSKI: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski, who made a short film about voice-over artist Hal Douglas. Douglas died last week at age 89. And we can't help but end our remembrance with one of Douglas' more recent starring roles. He appeared on screen, in a trailer, of course. It was for a Jerry Seinfeld movie called "Comedian." And Hal Douglas played a voice-over talent named Jack.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "COMEDIAN")

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) In a world where laughter was king...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: No "in a world," Jack.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) What do you mean, no "in a world"?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) It's not that kind of movie.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) OK. In a land that...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No "in a land," either.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) In a time...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No, I don't think so.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) In the land before time...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) It's about a comedian, Jack.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...one man...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) When your life is no longer your own...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What does that mean?

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...when everything you know is wrong...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) That's wrong.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...in an outpost...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...on the edge of space...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) There's no space.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...a girl...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...two girls...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No, no.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...now, more than ever...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Stop it.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...a renegade cop...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I hate you.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...a robot renegade cop...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You're fired.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) ...you're fired.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No, you're actually fired.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) I'm fired.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Get out of the booth, Jack.

DOUGLAS: (As Jack) No, I like it in here.

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