For over a half a century and for tens of millions of Spaniards the grainy baritone voice of the actor and film dubber Rogelio Hernandez was indistinguishable from those of some of Hollywood's greatest stars, from Marlon Brando and Tony Curtis to Richard Harris and Cary Grant.
Dubbing gets a poor press in the UK and across the Channel; Jean Renoir said dubbers would have been burned at the stake in the Middle Ages for impersonation. But since a 1940 law in Franco's Spain, echoing legislation in Germany and Italy, made it obligatory for foreign films to be dubbed – and therefore easier both to be censored and understood in a society where illiteracy was relatively high – dubbing has been a respected discipline. There have some hilarious hiccups in dubbing's history, one of the most infamous being when Ingrid Bergman is asked in the 1947 film Arc de Triomphe whether she is married, and her dubbed Spanish answer was an emphatic Si, even while she was shaking her head.
Censorship ended in 1978, but what started as an imposition has grown into a near-unbreakable social habit. Today it's estimated that only three per cent of Spaniards watch subtitled films at cinemas, and while films shown on digital TV now have a subtitles option, the default mode is for them to be dubbed.
In their heyday of the mid-1980s, when videos of US films and series flooded the market, the studios in Barcelona - Spain's dubbing capital - turned in an annual gross profit of around 4bn pesetas [15m euros]. And although dubbing has been the pathway into the cinema or theatre for some of Spain's greatest actors, like Fernando Fernan Gomez or Fernando Reyes, others, like Hernandez, remained stars at one remove.
"I have always had the impression that except for a very few, dubbing films is something completely unknown... nobody comes out of a film saying 'how well-dubbed that film was', and yet it is something inherently natural," Hernandez wrote on his website.
After a brief spell in Madrid theatres, Hernández moved to Barcelona and begun working in the dubbing studios. By 2008, when he retired because of an eyesight problem, he had featured as the "voice of..." in 1,035 films.
Among his most famous dubs were Michael Caine, in no less than 41 different films, including Zulu (1964) and Sleuth (1972), and Paul Newman in 27, including Exodus (1960) and The Left Handed Gun (1958). His most famous dub, though, was probably Marlon Brando in everything from Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979) to Paul in Last Tango In Paris (1972). He was both Brando as Fletcher Christian in Mutiny On The Bounty (1962) and that of his rival Captain Bligh, played by Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty (1982).
Jack Nicholson was a successful late addition, starting with The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1982 and continuing with 17 more including the Joker in Batman (1989). Other actors he voiced range from Harvey Keitel and John Hurt to Montgomery Clift and Dirk Bogarde. He was equally at home dubbing Peter Sellers or Omar Sharif as he was a Japanese commander in Tora! Tora! Tora!.
Although he was inspired by the legendary Spanish dubber, Rafael Luis Calvo (whose speciality was Anthony Quinn), his colleague and assistant Javier Dotu said, "Rogelio brought a new style to dubbing, which had previously mostly been done in a really over-affected style. He made it much more human, and more credible, which in turn made it far more pleasant a listening experience." He died from liver cancer; his widow Rosa Guiñon and daughter Rosa María Hernandez are both well-known voice actors.
Rogelio Hernández, voice actor: born Barcelona 25 December 1930; married Rosa Guiñon (one daughter); died Barcelona 31 December 2011.
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