SOMERS, N.Y. - You may not know Alan Sklar, but there is a good chance he has been in your home or your car.
For the past 25 years, Sklar has narrated more than 200 audiobooks, thousands of non-broadcast narrations and hundreds of television and radio commercials. At 80 years old, he continues to work as a voice actor.
Happily married, Sklar lives in Somers with his wife, Anita, a current artist and former model. They have four children and nine grandchildren. A natural storyteller, Sklar told The Somers Record, in his rich and commanding speaking voice, the tale of how they met outside of the Plaza Hotel in New York City when they were in their early 20s. It reads like the meet-cute of a romantic comedy.
He saw her from across the fountain as she and a friend sat to eat lunch and share a beer that was wrapped in a brown bag.
Sklar said he thought, “That’s her. That’s the one. I just knew it.”
A police officer was walking around the fountain and Sklar took the opportunity to alert them to the officer’s presence.
“I purposely made my gestures unclear so I would have to go over and explain myself,” he said. “The minute she opened her mouth I fell in love with her.”
While Sklar credits destiny, his tenacity and laser-like focus on what he wants might be what’s accounted for his success over the years when it comes to both work and marriage.
“You have to remember the passion from when you first met her,” he said. “That was a bullseye for me. It was so refreshing. I’ve never forgotten that feeling.”
Aside from a successful acting career right out of college, he would eventually have a lucrative sales career after he took over his family’s painting supply business after the death of his father before eventually moving on to become a voice actor.
Sklar was born and raised in Yonkers. He attended the Horace Mann School and then Dartmouth College, where he developed an interest in theater. After graduating in 1956, he spent the summer in Stratford, Conn., participating in the summer Shakespeare Festival and quickly moved up in his roles. Eventually, he was promoted to the role of Chatillon in “King John.”
By September 1956, he could be called for his draft physical any day. He approached the stage manager of the off-Broadway Shakespearewrights Theatre, a church basement on W. 77th Street and West End Avenue.
“I said to him, let me hold a spear or a lantern. I’ll do it for free,” he said. “I just want to have an experience.”
The stage manager complied. However, due to an issue with one small vertebra in his back, Sklar was incapable of serving due to a medical issue. He was not drafted, something he has mixed feelings about to this day.
“I had two years given to me as a present from uncle Sam,” Sklar said.
He took this gift and ran with it, continuing his work at the off-Broadway theater, until an offer to play Hamlet’s understudy intimidated him. He did not feel prepared for such a role and enrolled in the two-year course at the prominent Stella Adler Studio of Acting, following in the steps of his idols, such as Marlon Brando. From there, he studied with Sanford Meisner for two years, starting in 1958, and then Lee Strasberg in 1960.
When he began “making rounds,” the industry term for knocking on talent agents’ doors with a portfolio full of headshots and a sales pitch for himself, Stephen Draper, a prominent agent at the time, selected him almost immediately. With help from Draper and a knack for securing auditions for himself, Sklar landed several acting jobs, including a role on the TV show, “The West Point Story.” Eventually, he was offered a seven-year contract with Warner Bros.
In what ended up being one of his most reflected upon moments, Sklar turned the offer down. He wanted to be a serious theater actor and was afraid that going to Hollywood would doom him to a life of beach scenes. Draper dropped him as a client.
“I look back and wonder if I should have taken the offer. California never turned me on,” he said. “I was afraid of too much success and I was afraid to fail.”
Around the same time, his father passed away and his mother asked him if he had any interest in taking over the family business. He continued to build the business and merged with another company.
“It was really fun. It was an adventure,” he said. “After three years, I left. But now I had money in the bank.”
After discovering a love for audiobooks, Sklar thought, “I can do that.” He contacted Recorded Books and sent them a headshot. The rest is history. With a small soundproof recording room in his basement, he sometimes works from home.
The work of a voice actor does not simply entail reading a script; Sklar goes to consulates and tourist bureaus in order to perfect an accent. He also keeps detailed files on his computer with vocabulary words unique to whatever he works on. For instance, he recorded Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” a book about the history of Al Qaeda, and needed to research the meaning and pronunciation of many Arabic words.
In addition to narrating several well-known stories, such as Mark Bowden’s “Black Hawk Down,” he has been the spokesperson for TracFone, Country Crock Spread and Casper Mattresses. He also gets flown to corporate conventions to act as what he refers to as “the voice of God.”
“I’ve said a zillion times, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. Our program will begin in 10 minutes,’” Sklar said.
His true passion lies in the interaction he gets with listeners when he can read to them live at local libraries.
“I won’t grow wealthy from reading short stories at Westchester libraries, but it nourishes the ham actor in me,” he said. “I love having a live audience.”
He will read “The Pit and the Pendulum¨ by Edgar Allen Poe at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, at Ruth Keeler Memorial Library in North Salem.