Hal Douglas, 89, Superstar of Movie Trailer Narrators, Dies
Hal Douglas, a voice-over artist who narrated thousands of movie trailers in a gravelly baritone heard by “audiences everywhere,” as he might have put it, “thrilled by images never before seen ... until now!,” died on Friday at his home in Lovettsville, Va. He was 89.
The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, his daughter, Sarah Douglas, said.
Mr. Douglas was known for a generation in the voice-over industry as one of the top two or three go-to talents, along with Don LaFontaine, the most prolific, who died in 2008, and Don Morrow, the voice of the “Titanic” trailer.
His dramatic range, from Olympian-thunderous to comic-goofy, suited him for trailers for movies as diverse as “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump,” “Coneheads,” “Meet the Parents” and “Lethal Weapon.” (“Under 17 not admitted without a parent.”)
The flexibility of his voice, and the longevity of his career — he worked steadily until two years ago — made him a “one name” phenomenon in Hollywood, said Marice Tobias, a consultant and voice coach to many A-list actors. “When you go past superstar status, you reach icon status in this business, where people know you by one name only,” she said. “That was Hal.”
Mr. Douglas, who never lived in Hollywood, preferring to work from studios in New York, took a more relaxed view of his work. “I’m not outstanding in any way,” he told The New York Times in 2009. “It’s a craft that you learn, like making a good pair of shoes. And I just consider myself a good shoemaker.”
With his insider’s cachet and ironic sensibility, he was cast in one of his few on-camera roles — as a voice-over artist — in the trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s 2002 documentary, “Comedian.”
Mr. Douglas played an announcer, named Jack, who speaks only in trailer clichés. Settling into a recording booth to do the usual spiel, he begins, “In a world where laughter was king” — only to be cut off by a director on the other side of the glass.
“Uh, no ‘in a world,’ Jack.”
“What do you mean, No ‘in a world’?”
“It’s not that kind of movie.”
“Oh? O.K. In a land that ... ”
“No ‘in a land,’ either.”
“In a time ... ”
“Nah, I don’t think so.”
“In a land before time.”
“It’s about a comedian, Jack.”
“No ... ”
The movie was not particularly successful, but the trailer — uploaded to YouTube — has been viewed more than 700,000 times.
Mr. Douglas was born Harold Cone in Stamford, Conn., on Sept. 1, 1924, to Samuel and Miriam Levenson Cone. After his mother died when he was 9, Hal (as he was always known) and a brother, Edwin, were raised mainly by their grandparents, Sarah and Tevya Levenson. His father, whose original name was Cohen and who worked in the Cohen family haberdashery in Stamford, remarried.
Hal Cone trained as a pilot and spent three years in the Navy during World War II. He wrote fiction in his free time, and after the war he enrolled on the G.I. Bill at the University of Miami, where he studied acting.
After moving to New York, he changed his last name to Douglas and began supplementing his meager income from acting jobs with voice-over and announcer work on radio and television, becoming much sought after for commercials and lead-ins for TV shows. He continued working in television throughout his life, while also doing film trailers and occasional documentaries.
Besides his daughter, Mr. Douglas is survived by his wife of 43 years, Ruth Francis Douglas, and two sons from a previous marriage, Jeremy and Jon.
“I never thought of it as a great voice,” he said of himself in “A Great Voice,” a short 2013 film about his career directed by Casimir Nozkowski. It was, he said, “throaty, chesty, a voice in need of clearing.”
But he found, he said, that it was “O.K. for a lot of things” professionally, if he didn’t clear it.