There is occasionally downtime in the voice over world of audio’connell Voice Over Talent. While I should say that I am always marketing or developing new business when the mic isn’t on, well, that’s not always true.
Sometimes I surf. And not on water.
But a recent surfing expedition (which really was a key word search on Google) led me to a 1997 interview on a “Lost In Space” website with a fairly well known announcer by the name of Dick Tufeld. Dick was the voice of “The Robot” in the series “Lost In Space” and reprised his role when the movie came out. (And, if you like, there seems to be another interview with Dick here).
Dick’s career has spanned a great deal more than just “Lost In Space”. I remember him as a long time announcer of the Grammy’s among other shows (his signoff that I remember was “This is Dick Tufeld speaking”). I can’t find too much present day information on him to know if at 82 he’s still working, other than some somewhat suspect web sites that I cannot confirm as credible.
But what I loved though, from the 1997 interview, was this quote, telling a story that almost every professional voice talent can relate to and laaaughh!
Q: How did you get the voice job of the Robot?
Dick Tufeld: When I was 18 years old, I was working one summer at KLCA-LA radio, and I used to announce shows and do station breaks, etc. There was a literary agent named Irwin Allen, who must have been, I’m guessing, 35 years old at the time, who would walk in and nod to me, and I’d nod to him — I was just a kid at the time. He had a Hollywood gossip show, and I’d spin the theme music for it and announce him, for 15 minutes once a week. Then he’d leave and nod to me, and I’d nod to him. That was the extent of our conversation.
Twenty years go by, and he was walking out of the commissary at 20th Century Fox and there was a guy named Emmett Labry, Jr. who was in the business affairs department. Irwin ran into Emmett and said that he had a new series going on air in a few weeks. “We need a narrator and is there anybody you can think of?’ Emmett was a friend of mine, and said “How about Dick Tufeld?”
In one of the most astonishing statements I’ve heard repeated to me, Irwin turned to Emmett and said “Dick Tufeld, my oldest and dearest friend — great idea!” Which I think is pretty funny. Irwin contacted my agent, and they got an audio tape of my voice doing some narration. Irwin liked it and I became the narrator of the show.
About two weeks later I got a call from Irwin’s office asking me to read for a robot character. So I go in there, and think this is good. He hands me some copy, and I say “Irwin, I presume what you are looking for a mechanical, robot-ian kind of robot sound.” He looks at me and says “My dear boy, that is precisely what I do not want. This is a very highly advanced culture in the year 1997.” Of course that seemed to be very far away to everybody [chuckle]. “I want a cultured low- key voice, (I would equate this with the voice of computer Hal in “2001”), an Alexander Scourby” — the wonderful NY actor and narrator voice who has passed on – and he said “that’s what I’m looking for.”
So I started reading for Irwin with my best Scourby imitation, and I’m not coloring the words and I’m doing an unemotional read and I’m saying “Warning that does not compute.” He says no, that’s not it, and I do it again, and then he says no, that’s not it, and I try something else and that’s not it. All this time I’m trying to do my best Alexander Scourby imitation. And he finally says to me, after about 10 minutes, “Well Dick, I appreciate you coming in. To be honest with you, you’re not getting this, so I have to look further for this. But you’re still the narrator on this show.” And I say to Irwin, “Thank you very much.”
I take my reading glasses off and start packing up my attachÃ© case. And God knows why I even did this. I say to Irwin, “Let me try one more thing for you just before I go.” And now I read the line in my best mechanical, robot-ian kind of way and I say “Warning that does not compute.”
And he says “Jesus Christ, that’s the Alexander Scourby approach I was looking for, what the hell took you so long?” Honestly, I had to literally turn away from him, so as not to laugh in his face, because I was so convulsed.
It was the classic example of what people say they want, and what they are actually looking for. They are two different things. In a sense I was *very* fortunate to become the voice of the Robot, because if I had not said “let me try one more thing” as I was walking out obviously I would never have been the voice of the Robot. It was a kind of a fluke the way it happened.
That IS a classic and oddly timeless truth that makes me smile, knowing the challenges of today in voice over aren’t actually that different from those great talents who paved the way for us.
Thanks Dick. Love your voice, love your humor!