Hal Douglas was a movie star, but only until the feature film started.
Douglas, who was one of the most sought-after voice artists working in film and television, did the narration for so many movie trailers that he could not recall how many he recorded even in a given week. But some of the most prominent films for which he was the voice of the trailers were “Men in Black” (1 and 2), “Philadelphia,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Marley & Me” and “Forrest Gump.”
Comedies, dramas, sci-fi blockbusters, documentaries — he did them all, not to mention thousands of TV show promotions and commercials.
“It’s really narration in all of its own forms,” said Douglas in a 2006 Times interview. “One takes what comes — that is the working craft.”
Douglas, 89, died March 7 at his home in Lovettsville, Va. He was diagnosed four years ago with pancreatic cancer and then had a stroke in October, said his daughter, Sarah Douglas.
He did not have booming tones, like some others who did movie trailers. His was a more gravelly sound, infused with character. “I never thought of it as a great voice,” he said in a video interview with documentary filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski. “It’s always verging on hoarseness, rarely crystal clear. So much so that that’s become my voice. It’s a unique sound.”
Douglas, who mostly worked at home in a studio set up for his narration work, tuned his voice to whatever trailer was at hand, whether airborne action flick “Con Air” (“This summer, check your weapons, take your seat and say your prayers”), heartstring-tugging “Marvin’s Room” (“Sometimes the people you know the least are the ones you need the most”) or the Jerry Seinfeld comedy “Comedian,” in which Douglas appeared on-screen in a trailer that parodied trailers (“In a world where laughter was king”).
On TV, he did promotional spots for shows on ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as the A&E, WB and History cable networks.
“I get direction, but for the most part it is kind of working in the dark to an extent,” he said in the Times interview. “I don’t do character voices per se, but depending upon the emotion, try to approach it as an actor.”
He had to especially adapt his approach when he did commercials, including those for high-end cars and over-the-counter remedies. “You get associated with Mercedes Benz, you’ve got class,” he said wryly in the video interview of one client. “When you do Carter’s Little Liver Pills, however, you’re at the other end.”
He was born Harold Cohen on Sept. 1, 1924, in Stamford, Conn. His family later changed the last name to Cone and then, when he was seeking acting work, he took the name Douglas.
He studied theater at the University of Miami in Florida and worked as a radio announcer before trying his luck as an actor in New York. But wanting “a salary at the end of the week,” he worked in advertising for a decade, which he felt equipped him to sell products and productions in voice-over work.
Douglas worked steadily until about four years ago, his daughter said. One of his last trailers was for the animated “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”
“People have been telling me,” he said in the Times interview, “they have been hearing me since they were children.”
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Ruth; sons Jeremy and Jon; and three grandchildren.
By David Colker