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About the Narrator: Ray Hagen

Headshot of Ray HagenI was born in 1936 in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in Manhattan. I first thought I was going to be a cartoonist or illustrator, but by 1957, I’d started on the treadmill as an all-purpose actor-dancer-singer on and off Broadway. I toured as Riff in West Side Story, did chorus dancing and bits in movies, and sang in cabarets.

During the 1960s, I traveled around Europe, Africa, and India, did the obligatory anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, and was in the Stonewall bar when The Big Raid happened (which landed me in a book). The 1960s offered many distractions.

Concurrently, I was writing for film magazines, mainly articles on cinema history and film-star interviews. I’ve done two movie books: The American Movies Reference Book and Killer Tomatoes: 15 Tough Film Dames, the latter on film actresses noted for playing tough dames, many of whom I got to interview. (Imagine my shock when the latter book was chosen to be recorded. Guess who narrated it?) I also co-wrote two plays, which were done off-Broadway and in theaters throughout the country.

I moved to Washington, DC, in 1972 and a year later got a job as a narrator at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress. I soon went full-time and have recorded some 550 books. In 2000, I was most pleased to be given an Alexander Scourby Lifetime Achievement Award. 

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 six-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 ’70s, 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 over 11,000 names and still counting. I also put together The ABC Book: Acronyms, Brand Names, and Corporations. All the studios NLS works with now have access to these dictionaries via the Internet, which is even better than index cards.

I still do occasional theater work and writing, but my most rewarding work by far has been narrating audiobooks for the Library of Congress for more than forty years–actually more than half my life.

Send an email about Ray Hagen to the studio.