Donald Leroy “Don” LaFontaine
(August 26, 1940 – September 1, 2008)
In a world filled with billions of voices, voice actor Don LaFontaine was an icon.
Born in Duluth, Minnesota, LaFontaine started his career in the service, where he was assigned to the United States Army Band and Chorus as a recording engineer. After his discharge, he continued his engineering work at National Recording Studios in New York City and late in 1962, he was assigned to a young radio producer named Floyd L. Peterson.
Peterson was creating radio commercials for the Stanley Kubrick film, Dr. Strangelove, and the collaboration was so successful that in January of the following year, LaFontaine and Peterson formed a professional partnership – with their “illustrious” headquarters located in Peterson’s tiny apartment.
Their enterprise quickly expanded to over 30 employees, and Floyd L. Peterson, Inc. was one of the first companies to work exclusively in motion picture advertising. At this time, most film promotion was done in-house by the studios, but LaFontaine and Peterson sought to break that tradition. It was during this time of industry growth that the format for the modern trailer (previews of coming attractions) was developed, and LaFontaine and Peterson were among the first to create the catch phrases that still dominate trailers today: “In a world,” “A one-man army,” and “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no way out.”
In 1965, when a scheduling mix-up at the company resulted in an announcer missing a session, LaFontaine had 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 not only bought the concepts, but bought his performance, as well, and over the next 16 years LaFontaine voiced thousands of spots and hundreds of trailers.
In 1976, LaFontaine started his own production company, Don LaFontaine Associates, and snagged his first assignment as an independent: “The Godfather, Part II.”
In 1978, he was asked to join Paramount Pictures, heading up the trailer department, and over the next three years, became the “Voice” of Paramount.
LaFontaine left Paramount in 1981 and relocated to Los Angeles, where a young agent named Steve Tisherman urged him to pursue voiceovers more aggressively. He agreed, signed with Tisherman, and over the last 25 years cemented his position as the “King of Voiceovers.”
Aside from his work in the trailer industry, LaFontaine became the voice of NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and UPN, in addition to TNT, TBS, and the Cartoon Network, voicing hundreds of thousands of television and radio spots, including commercials for Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Budweiser, McDonalds, Coke, and other corporate sponsors. He also made appearances as the in-show announcer for the SAG-AFTRA Awards and Academy Awards.
At last count, Don LaFontaine had over 5000 film trailers and 750,000 television spots to his name. He also received a great deal of recognition for his achievements, honored at Cannes and awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hollywood Reporter’s Key Art Awards in 2005.
Above all, Don LaFontaine will always be remembered for his unrelenting kindness and generosity, and the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Don LaFontaine Voiceover Lab is a fitting tribute to this legendary artist and man that many of today’s top voiceover actors considered both their mentor and friend.