Thursday, September 04, 2008

The King

I could write about Sen. John McCain's acceptance speech but the sizzle was last night with the new celebrity; I could cover Cindy McCain's $300,000 outfit which could itself cover a down payment on an eighth house, or Sarah Palin's second ethics charge as filed against her today by the Alaska Police Union for illegally looking into personal records; I could comment on how GOP Rep. Westmoreland laid bare the inherent racism of the "elitist" tag by calling Obama and his wife (I kid you not), "uppity"; I could even link to Obama's ultimate cool, collected, community organizer explaining press conference where he said he'd been called worse things than Palin did on the basketball court.

But I'd rather tell you about a great guy I met several years ago, during my life as an entertainment advertising exec.

Every year the Hollywood Reporter hosts the Key Art Awards, named for the primary image used to sell a movie. This is the Oscars of movie marketing and, as such, is held in the very same Kodak Theater where the Oscars happen annually. There's usually great talent hosting the show and I saw Sarah Silverman, Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider and others join in the marketing side of the industry making fun of itself even as it rewarded itself with statuettes (one of which Ms. Silverman sniffed and said smelled "assy").

I believe it was the last one I went to that saluted Don LaFontaine, not exactly a household name, but definitely a household voice. His signature line:
In a world...
Don's voice actually changed how movies were marketed, from the old days of listing stars and attractions to creating a mood, telling the story more atmospherically, drawing you in rather than shouting out at you. And yesterday he died at the rather abbreviated age of 68.

I had the good fortune to meet Don at the always-excellent catered, open bar reception that always follows the Key Art Awards. He was talked to by everybody, but there was a moment and he seemed so approachable that I just had to approach him.

He was warm, welcoming and just modest enough, understanding the slight undercurrent of absurdity there but still grateful for the recognition. I asked a bit about his past based on the program notes and in-show testimonials, and learned that a large part of the reason for his early success as a coming attractions voiceover talent was that he was working, starting in the 1960's, as a movie marketeer himself. He continued to do double duty, being appointed head of the Paramount trailer department in 1978. But his voiceover work grew so much that he built a home studio and sometimes did up to seven jobs a day. In fact, based on the number of contracts signed, LaFontaine "is the most employed actor in the (Screen Actors) guild's 75-year history."

As his ubiquity grew he remained able to make fun of his image, including a famous Geico ad:

And you may remember:
Last year, he did a promotion for the “The Simpsons Movie,” in which his comments were immediately echoed by characters from the film. At one point he says, “Hey, you’re just repeating everything I’m saying!” and Homer responds: “I know. It’s weird!”
So it's sad that he's left us, four years younger than GOP Presidential nominee McCain, a man who seemed (based on the very funny videos made for the awards show that night) generous with his fellow voice talent and warm of spirit:

I guess he's left our world...or...maybe he's in a different world altogether...

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