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Alexander Scourby is reputed to have been the world`s best audio-book narrator, bar none. He is heralded as having the greatest voice ever recorded.
Scourby, a radio, film and stage actor, read 422 books for the Talking Books program of the American Foundation for the Blind, including Homer`s “Iliad,” Tolstoy`s “War and Peace,” Joyce`s “Ulysses,” Faulkner`s “The Sound and the Fury” and the King James Version of the Bible.
Although Scourby considered Talking Books his most important work, he also made several recordings for Spoken Arts and Listening Library, and it`s well worth the purchase price to hear the master.
For Spoken Arts, he read Walt Whitman`s “Leaves of Grass”, Edgar Allan Poe`s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and several titles in the Voices of History collection of famous speeches.
For Listening Library, Scourby read “The Great Gatsby and Other Stories,” “The Stories of Ernest Hemingway” and some of the poems on “A Treasury of Great Poetry.”
What made Scourby so great? People who try to describe it generally stutter through glowing adjectives and adverbs, concluding that it`s an intangible, indefinable quality. But they all agree on one thing: He was a man with a truly rare gift.
For Listening Library`s Tim Ditlow, Scourby`s readings are “totally believable, and I`m totally transported” to the period of the story. He cites “the warmth, the resonance” of Scourby`s voice and concludes, “If I could name exactly what it was, I`d probably diminish it. When you hear him, it goes right to your heart.”
Ditlow`s father, Anthony, is blind and was well-acquainted with Scourby`s readings when he founded the Listening Library in 1958. What the elder Ditlow likes is Scourby`s subtlety: “He never over-emphasized, but you knew at all times all the various scales of emotion. I always used to say Alex could read the phone book and make it interesting.”
Comparing Scourby to some of today`s best audio-book readers, Anthony Ditlow said, “They`re all good, but they`re just good. They`re not superb.” At the American Foundation for the Blind studios in New York City, manager Don Weightman remembers Scourby as “one of a kind.”
“We`re talking about an X quality here. What really came across was the fact that he was believable,” Weightman said. “Beautiful voices are a dime a dozen, but when you get the quality of believability, that`s something rare.” Fellow Talking Books reader Flo Gibson, who also reads for her own audio- book company in Washington, said it was Scourby she listened to for inspiration.
His readings “certainly have an elegant quality to them,” she said. “But what I like are his pregnant pauses-he uses his pauses so well. His subtle hints of dialect are superb.”
While most narrators try to “act” a book, raising and lowering their voices when the speaker changes from a man to a woman, Scourby simply changed the rhythm slightly, Gibson said.
People who knew Scourby describe a man meticulous in his research and preparation. For Scourby, Weightman said, the author came first. And for listeners, Scourby comes first.