Jim Dale gives voice to the world's favorite boy wizard
The crowning irony of British actor Jim Dale's stellar career is that he will best be remembered for having been heard and not seen. As the sole performer of the entire Harry Potter canon on audiobook, including the seventh and final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dale is more likely to be swarmed by fans who suddenly recognize the voice of young Harry and some 130 other characters than Dale himself, the show-stopping, Tony Award-winning song-and-dance man from the 1980 Broadway musical hit, Barnum.
"I've been acting for 50 years now and the last eight or nine years, more kids have gotten to know me than ever did when I was a young man," the 71-year-old Dale says from his Manhattan apartment. "There's a whole new generation out there that don't know me to look at but they know me when I speak, and that can be quite funny."
Funny because, unlike those mellifluous, immediately identifiable voices from the British stage (Gielgud, Burton, et al.), Dale once considered his voice one of his biggest obstacles.
"I was born with a very broad accent in the center of England, which is Shakespeare country, these small communities that have dialect that goes back 300 or 400 years, and it took me a long time to get rid of that. I never really thought my voice was anything special," Dale admits.
In fact, prior to Potter, Dale's stock in trade had always been a robust comic physicality. Stage-struck at birth, he began training at age nine in everything from tap, ballet, ballroom and eccentric comedy dancing to tumbling and judo. By 17, he was touring Great Britain as a standup comedian. During an appearance on "6-5 Special," Britain's first rock 'n' roll television show, Dale commandeered a guitar and rendered a song as a lark. Impressed, the producers offered him a regular singing slot.
Overnight, the comedian became a pop star whose record producer, George Martin, also worked with four lads from Liverpool. Swinging London, mid-'60s, what's not to like? Dale gave it two years and three albums, then returned to his first love, the theater.
"I really had a love of comedy and acting," Dale says. "I didn't enjoy the pop singing that much. I was quite happy performing for laughs rather than trying to perform over screaming teenage girls. I didn't enjoy that at all."
He left pop music on a high note however when "Georgy Girl," a song he wrote with Dusty Springfield's brother Tom, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1966. It lost out to "Born Free." Dozens of stage productions followed, mostly Shakespeare and musical comedies, first in London's West End, then on Broadway. But it was the Carry On series of British comedy films shot between 1963-1992 ("As popular as 'M*A*S*H' at the time," says Dale) that made him a cultural icon in the U.K. Like most Britons, Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling was a fan and sought out Dale to give voice to her blockbuster series.
Dale wasn't quite sure what he'd signed on for when he arrived to record Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1999.
"I had never done an audiobook before, so I started putting voices to the characters as I started to read on that first day and the engineer said, No, no, no Jim, you don't have to give the characters voices; it's going to be a hell of a lot of work. Just read. I said, I think it will bring the characters more to life, and they said well, OK. Little did I realize what I was letting myself in for—I didn't realize that the snakes and spiders had voices as well!"
On average, it took Dale three weeks to record each Potter book, working from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or as long as his voice held out. "Whatever my voice is like in the afternoon must be the same as it will be the next morning after it has recuperated overnight, so I mustn't let it get too gravelly and worn down," he explains.
At the time of our interview, Dale had not yet recorded Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the much anticipated final volume of the series. He doesn't typically receive a Potter book until two or three days before he's scheduled to go into the studio, and doesn't even read it then because he's too busy organizing the characters so he can voice the parts.
Everybody was fair game as models for Muggles, hobgoblins and ghouls. Dale crafted Hermione after his first girlfriend, Professor McGonagall after a Scottish aunt and Professor Dumbledore after his friend John Houseman. Harry, of course, will always be the voice of young Jim Dale. To keep his audio cast straight, Dale makes a reference tape of all the different voices, then cross-references each character with page and line numbers.
Harry has been very, very good to Dale, earning him a 2000 Grammy Award (for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), four Grammy nominations, a shelf full of Audie Awards and the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) from Queen Elizabeth II in 2004 for his work on behalf of British children's literature. He also notched a couple of Guinness World Records for creating 134 character voices for one audio (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and occupying the top six places in the Top Ten Audiobooks of America for 2005. His excellent audio adventure won't end with the Potter series; Dale continues to record the new Peter Pan adventure series (Peter and the Starcatchers, etc.) co-authored by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.
All this magic seems to have rubbed off on Dale. This fall, he plans to trade Hogwarts for the lead in a Broadway remake of the Tommy Tune musical, Busker Alley, playing an old busker whose true love, another busker, ran off to pursue the big time.
"Seventy-one is only my age; I'm 25 inside," says Dale. "Finishing Harry Potter, there will be a sadness in a way, but at the same time it will be an accomplishment. It's going to be lovely to be remembered in generations to come as the voice of Harry Potter."
Jay MacDonald writes from Austin, Texas. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2007 #6
Dale here does his usual heroic job of delineating the multitude of characters' voices and tackling the complexities of the plot as Harry searches for horcruxes and deathly hallows; for his own sense of morality in the face of revelations about Dumbledore's past and Snape's surprising loves and loyalties; and, ultimately, for the Truth with a capital T. Dale gamely keeps the energy level high as Harry manages his myriad hairsbreadth escapes from the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort. But the narrator's great gift for comedy has precious little outlet in this, the darkest, talkiest, and last of the seven books. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 August #2
Daletackles Harry's last hurrah with the same undercurrent of excitement and mind-boggling roster of distinct character voices that he brought to his previous six performances. Less of the Hogwarts setting, and a more dangerous quest for Harry and his friends, means that Dale has less jocularity to work with here (something at which he excels), but he does not disappoint in conveying both the heart-rending drama and sense of closure of Rowling's final Potter outing. Late in the recording, when Harry realizes his fate and Rowling's plot twists fly, Dale is at the top of his game, drawing listeners into the orbit of his comforting voice. Throughout, Harry and his friends appropriately sound a bit older than they did in the early volumes, and it's hard to know whether it's imagined or not, but there's a hint of wistfulness in Dale's voice, perhaps because both narrator and listener know it's the last time they'll be together for a new Potter adventure. The CD packaging, which makes extensive use of Mary GrandPr's spot illustrations and cover art on the discs and sleeves, is also a treat for fans. Ages 10-up. (July)[Page 70]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Gr 6 Up--Listeners may want to linger over Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic, 2007) since this is J. K. Rowling's last installment in her universally successful fantasy series. Howeverm the high-tension adventures of Harry assisted by Hermione and Ron will immediately draw everyone into the quest to vanquish Voldemort. With the Dark Lord in control of the Ministry of Magic, the trio uses their combined wizardly talents to stay hidden as they follow Dumbledore's assignment to destroy the dangerous horcruxes. Finding those fragmented pieces of their enemy's soul lead the friends to angry arguments, near fatal encounters and, occasionally, humorous episodes. Pursuing Dumbledore's oblique clues also reveal the truth behind a powerful, death-defying magic wand and stone, but that knowledge threatens to sidetrack the teens. The final confrontation is a bloody battle at Hogworts that involves the vast cast of creatures, allies and foes from the previous six volumes. In the end, Harry learns unexpected truths that are pivotal in the concluding struggle between good and evil. Narrator Jim Dale again serves up superbly distinctive characters and adds excitement when he narrates action scenes. Creating more than 200 voices for the Potter series, Dale has not only brought a rich vocal presence to the text, but he's also set an audiobook record for the number of characters portrayed. For those who've enjoyed the print version of the book, listening to this recording will extend and enhance the inspiring climax to this legendary septet.--Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT[Page 74]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.