WASHINGTON – Most Harry Potter fans wouldn't recognize Jim Dale on the street. But ask him to speak in the voice of Hermione or Professor Sprout and his celebrity status is instantly revealed.
For Dale,who turns 70 on Monday,is the voice behind Harry Potter and hundreds of other characters in the audiobook series,more than 5 million of which have been sold.
“I am unbelievably thrilled to be a part of the series,” said Dale,who has recorded all six of the Potter books. He earned a Grammy in 2000 for “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
Fans are also thrilled,with swarms appearing at Dale's performances.
Listening to the books on tape multiple times is not uncommon for some. Ethan Ableman,10,of McLean,Va.,said he listens to one of the books on tape every night as he goes to bed. He has listened to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth in the series,10 times.
“This is just a lot of fun,” Ethan said after being selected as one of the best impersonators of Dale at a bookstore reading here. Ethan said he “always” reads the books as well as listening to them on tape.
To Dale,the craze usually seems distant.
“It is only a day like this when I get an inkling of how many Harry Potter fans there are,” he said in an interview Tuesday before reading to more than 200 fans.
The average children's hit audiobook sells about 20,000 copies. More than 350,000 CDs and tapes of “The Half-Blood Prince” have been sold since its release in July.
Recording the audiobook for J.K Rowling's latest addition to the Harry Potter series,the 652-page “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” took him two weeks. Dale spends time with his family or acts in Broadway plays the rest of the year. He won a Tony award in 1980 for the lead role in the Broadway production of “Barnum.”
Hailing from England,the actor and writer has been touring the U.S. since the release of the latest book in July,reading to fans of all ages.
While eager hear Dale in person,some are intimidated by his talent.
“I was really excited,but it was nerve racking because I was trying to impress him,” said Pam Young,13,of Gaithersburg,Md.,who also won a prize for imitating Dale. Pam said her favorite books are “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth book,and the “Half-Blood Prince.”
Holding the Guinness World Record for most character voices in an audio book – 134 in “Order of the Phoenix” – Dale said he doesn't mimic,but rather uses voices he hears as influences. Some of his characters' voices are based on the “distinctive” comedians from radio shows he heard as a young man,while others are based on relatives and strangers.
“It is normal to me,” Dale said of his ability to create a different voice for each character in the Harry Potter series. “I can bring back voices from 50 years ago.”
During weeks when he is recording,Dale takes care to preserve his voice. He avoids picking up the phone and talking unnecessarily,joking that it is a “vacation” for his wife. After six to eight hours of work,he practices for the next day's session.
“It's important to have consistency,” he said.
Since the release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” Dale has read for fans in Los Angeles,Chicago,Atlanta and New York.
Rowling has said the seventh book in the series will be the last. Dale said he hopes to continue his part in the legacy. “I hope I don't kick the bucket,” he joked.