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About the Narrator

Ray Hagen

Picture of Ray Hagen I was born in 1936 in Brooklyn, N.Y. and raised in Manhattan. I first thought I was going to be an cartoonist or illustrator, but by 1957 I'd started on the treadmill as an all-purpose actor-dancer-singer on and off Broadway. Also toured as Riff in West Side Story, did chorus dancing on TV, bits in movies & sang in cabarets.

Concurrently I was writing for film magazines, mainly articles on cinema history and film star interviews. Also wrote two plays which were done off-Broadway.

During the sixties I traveled around Europe, Africa & India, did the obligatory anti-Vietnam war demonstrations (which landed me on Nixon's enemies list, maybe my main claim to fame) and was in the Stonewall bar when The Big Raid happened (which landed me in a book). The sixties offered many distractions.

I moved to Washington DC in 1972 and a year later got a part-time job as a narrator at the Library of Congress, recording Talking Books. I soon went full-time and have taped something like 450 books so far. In 2000 I was most pleased to be given an Alexander Scourby Lifetime Achievement Award. I took the hint and officially retired in 2001, though I still record at the Studio for a few hours a week as a contractor.

The author whose work I've recorded most: Isaac Bashevis Singer, fifteen titles. My "specialty" genres have turned out to be books on showbiz, Jews, gays and psychopaths. Make of that what you will. If forced to pick a favorite assignment, I'd have to choose Armistead Maupin's brilliant 6-part Tales of the City series. My longest book by far (62 sides): On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning. A lifetime achievement in itself.

Narrators have one constant obsession: correct pronunciation. This led me, in the mid-late 70's, to begin compiling pronunciations of names of people neither famous, old or dead enough to be in regular dictionaries but likely to be mentioned in contemporary books. It started out as index cards in a shoebox and wound up as Say How: A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures, listing close to 10,000 names and still counting. I also put together The ABC Book: Acronyms, Brand Names and Corporations. All the Studios now have access to these dictionaries via the internet, which is even better than index cards.

I recently wrote a book for McFarland publishers, Killer Tomatoes, on film actresses noted for playing strong, tough dames. I still do occasional theatre work and cabaret gigs here in DC, the most recent being (believe it or not) Naked Boys Singing. At my age, who could turn down such an outrageous offer? I don't push it—if a gig comes along, fine, and if not I'm happy to just keep taping the books. No directors to battle and I don't have to learn lines.

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Posted on 2013-06-28