If you’re like me, you have been on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios dozens of times. Most theme park nerds, like myself, know that there never was an episode of “The Twilight Zone” featuring an elevator that went berserk, rather Walt Disney Imagineering created a ride around a fictitious “lost episode” where guests can see nods to the television show scattered throughout the attraction.
Considering that “Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling passed away in June 1975 from a heart attack, Imagineers needed to find a sound-alike who could mimic Serling’s voice perfectly for not only the pre-show, but on-ride commentary. Disney held auditions in 1993 and they ultimately signed Mark Silverman to be their Rod Serling for the iconic new attraction.
I recently got a chance to chat with Silverman about his career and how he got a dream job to be immortalized in one of the best E-ticket attractions Disney has ever created.
Josh Young: How did you get started in the voiceover business?
Mark Silverman: I used to do impressions as a kid. I would take this little tape recorder with me and try to mimic different voices I heard on TV. Sometimes it was cartoons like “Tennessee Tuxedo” or Don Adams as Maxwell Smart in “Get Smart.” I was also really good at imitating Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa.
JY: How did that eventually lead to actual paying gigs?
MS: Well, I put together a demo reel and got hooked up with a talent agent. I started out doing ADR, or Automatic Dialogue Replacement for Universal Studios. Basically, when a studio makes a movie, when it airs on network or cable television, all the dirty words need to be taken out and replaced with something a little more family friendly. If filming had already wrapped, they would hire a voiceover artist like me to sound like the celebrity and use more appropriate language for television.
For example, I dubbed my voice for Al Pacino’s in “Carlito’s Way.” It’s not all dirty words though. Another job was to sound like Antonio Banderas for a movie trailer. He had already recorded the dialogue, but the studio wasn’t happy with how his accent sounded, so I dubbed the exact same thing Antonio did, but made it clearer for the audience to understand.
I also had a gig on KROQ in Los Angeles where I would do prank phone calls disguised as certain celebrities. One time I called Mike Tyson on the day of his big fight with Larry Holmes in his hotel room with my voice disguised as Sylvester Stallone and he actually bought it! (Click above for the YouTube Video)
JY: So how did the job to voice for a Disney project come about?
MS: I remember sitting on my couch watching a rerun of “Leave It To Beaver” when my friend Sam Kwasman, who also did voice over work for Disney on occasion, told me about the audition Disney was having for a Rod Serling sound-alike. I just remember running down to Beverly Hills, doing the audition and the woman who was holding it said she was very impressed. Honestly though, I never thought much of it.
However, a few weeks later, the same woman who was casting for the Disney job called again and asked me to come down for a second audition. So I did another reading for them, then I got really excited. In total, I ended up doing four auditions in order to finally get the job.
JY: Before this, were you a big Disney fan?
MS: Huge! It was like a dream come true. I used to take that same tape recorder I used as a kid for TV shows and bring it to Disneyland. I would try and recreate the voices I heard on the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean or even the exit spiel Jack Wagner did for the Matterhorn! This was literally a dream come true for me.
JY: Did they tell you about the Tower of Terror during the audition process?
MS: Actually, no. I knew it was some sort of elevator attraction, but that was about it. It wasn’t until I got to Imagineering that they showed me around. I got to see the models for the ride and some conceptual stuff. Just being at Imagineering was a dream come true.
JY: What was the recording process like?
MS: Actually, it went very smooth. It maybe took about three hours in total and that was that. I was just in awe to actually be in Imagineering and know that my voice was going to be immortalized in a Disney ride. It was all surreal.
One memory that sticks out is that I remember eating in the commissary and having the most amazing mash potatoes. Seriously, they were incredible.
JY: So just the one take for the Walt Disney World version and that was it?
MS: Not at all. They had me come in and do a special recording as Rod Serling for the Walt Disney World Christmas Parade broadcast in 1993. They were going to preview the attraction before it opened and it was a bit where Regis was going through somewhat of a simulation of what it would be like when Tower of Terror opened next year. (Click above for YouTube video)
Anyway, the Imagineers said that my Rod Serling got even better since my first recording and we re-recorded the audio for the attraction. What you hear on the ride today was actually the second take after I recorded the Christmas parade tracks, several months later. I also did nearly all the radio commercials for the Walt Disney World version as Rod Serling too.
JY: What was it like attending all the grand opening ceremonies for Tower of Terror?
MS: It was really amazing and just kind of weird because I was there with my little tape recorder, the very same recorder that I would bring to Disneyland and record all the rides and here I am about to record a big new Disney ride only the difference was I would be recording MY OWN VOICE!
JY: So you were used one more time when Tower opened at Disney’s California Adventure?
MS: Yes, they called me up and said they were doing a new version in DCA (I always had a feeling they would). So I went in and did one last voice over session in 2003 and that was the last time I worked on the Tower of Terror.
JY: Any other notable voice over work you have done since then?
MS: Well, I play Friend Owl in the Disney “Bambi” DVD extra features. I also voice him in some of the Disney Read-Along Books. I just love playing him because that’s an official “Disney character,” which is another dream come true being such a fan.
In 1997 the Disney restoration department found two scenes in a vault that used to be in “The Happiest Millionaire”, the Fred MacMurray musical from 1967. It was the last film that Walt personally supervised. So they found these two scenes and they wanted to put them back into the film for the studio library and the DVD release, the only problem was these two scene had no audio track! So they had to hire me to come in and do the voice of Fred MacMurray for these two scenes.
I am also a few different voices in the new interactive game in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando.
Most recently, I was the voice of Abraham Lincoln in The Lego Movie video game!
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Mark Silverman for taking the time to chat with me. He’s a true fan of Disney parks and a great guy. I get e-mails all the time from people wanting to know how to break into the theme park biz and Mark’s story is a great example. Find a skill outside of Disney or even theme parks, keep at it, and one day you may land that dream gig too!