Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Las Posadas, Diwali, Chinese New Year, the Solstice…Tapping into the warmth, the love, the joy and magic of the holidays is a lesson in connecting with the heart for all, including voiceover actors. It’s no coincidence that the brightest time of the year spiritually syncs up with the darkest time physically. In the grasshopper-ant fable, it’s time to relax, unwind, and connect with what and who is important. Congratulate yourself on your wins, learn from your losses (if applicable), remember why you do what you do, and tweak it if necessary. In 2020, with our global pandemic, we may need a heaping dose of that holiday magic more than in so-called normal times…Those of us hired to share messages through holiday voiceovers and stories in narration do well to reflect on that.
Researchers found people respond well to holiday messages and images. Holiday spirit makes us feel happier and nostalgia is a big part of that. In our house, it starts with our tradition of lighting candles on a menorah we brought back from Israel and frying latkes. We also pull out glass ornaments to decorate the tree, some of which have been in my family for a hundred years. Re-enacting traditions that connect us with time before and people who may no longer be with us helps remind us to be grateful for what we have and enjoy family and friends.
My favorite pop culture references to model my Holiday voiceovers on whether the narration applies to commercial ads, company messages or stories are linked back to favorite holiday specials I loved as a child. Christmas was not always a delightful time in my formative years. As with a lot of people, more difficult family issues seeped in and created a divide between what I hoped the Holiday feeling would entail and what actually transpired. Losing myself in the magic of televised Holiday specials was particularly important for me.
Favorite Holiday Voiceovers
The following (of my fav) Holidays narrators became templates for the kinds of voices I think we associate with stories that bring us light in the darkest time of the year.
Boris Karloff narrating How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) was perhaps my particular favorite. Familiar with Karloff from his horror films, the choice of him as the narrator for this fanciful story of the transformative power of the magic of Christmas was a stroke of genius. Karloff won a Grammy for the album version of The Grinch, the only award of his illustrious (90+ credits) film career. Karloff had narrated an album of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and the sweetness and detail he brought to each voice on this album inspired the invitation to the Grinch. This, combined with an interesting fact about his 1930 portrayal of Frankenstein. Thousands of kids all over the world wrote him letters sympathizing with the abused creature. The ironic juxtaposition of his horror credits and his thoughtful heartfelt performance continues to be an inspirational holiday classic.
Burl Ives narrated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). An Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor in The Big Country in 1958, Ives was an actor and folk singer hailing from Illinois. A shadow of insurgence – Ives had been on McCarthy’s Red List – may have had something to do with the casting decision. Sam the Snowman tells tales of Rudolph’s non-conformity and its ability to save Christmas. Interestingly, Ives was brought in at last minute as a headliner for Rudolph. All other voice actors in the TV special were Canadian RCA studios actors in Toronto. They were hired because they were inexpensive and were not (at that time) subject to royalties. Ives had a few other voice actor credits, namely Father Neptune in The Daydreamer and the narrator in the NBC Children’s theater. Hi gentle folksy delivery will forever be associated with the warmth of the holidays.
Fred Astaire, another Oscar winner, narrated Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970). Astaire plays the chatty mailman S.D. Kluger unfolds the story of Kris Kringle, the elf who became the legend. Known more for his dancing and acting than his voiceover skills, he was Hollywood royalty and a legend by the time this special was made. Along with star power, Astaire’s comfortable style befit spinning the tale that demystified the icon of Santa and turned him into a regular guy with problems he was pushed to overcome.
Jimmy Durante, another of my favorites, narrated Frosty the Snowman (1969). Gruff and gravelly his voice contrasted the sweet fish out of water tale of Frosty. Vaudeville actor, singer, and comedian Durante had recorded the song in 1950 when it first was penned, although the more popular version was sung by Gene Autry. The cartoon narrator looked a lot like the real-life Durante (much in the same way Sam the Snowman looked like Burl Ives and the mailman in Santa Claus is coming to Town resembled Fred Astaire). Other legends in that cartoon included June Foray as Karen and Jackie Vernon as Frosty. Narrating Frosty was one of Durante’s last acting jobs.
Greer Garson was a major MGM star and had led an illustrious career by the time she narrated The Little Drummer Boy (1968). Awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire), she was known for her multiple (seven) Academy award nominations and win in 1942 for Mrs. Miniver, Garson also set the record for longest Oscar acceptance speech ever. Her calm dignified voice was soothing and distinctive in the telling of this tale. She brought emotion and importance to each line. Beautiful and touching, she gives us a sample of a story told well by a female narrator. Sincere, simple, and strong her rendition wove together one of few specials that were religious in nature.
More recent holiday tellings include Jim Carrey narrating and performing several of the characters in A Christmas Carol (2009) and Pharrel Williams is the narrator in the retelling of The Grinch with Benedict Cumberbatch as the green mean. What are some of your fav Holiday narrators? Why have they earned a place in your Holiday heart?