Skip Conover, who never missed a performance during 17 years narrating the summer-long Pageant of the Masters production, died Friday, June 15.
Seated in his soundproof booth at the back of the Irvine Bowl every night, he reveled in entertaining his audiences with stories of artists’ lives.
Conover, who was born Hugh Distelhurst, already amassed many professional credits as a musician and voiceover artist before getting the nod to take over as Pageant narrator in 1994.
He succeeded Thurl Ravenscroft, who had been the “voice of the Pageant” for 20 years and a well-known voice-over artist.
Of his predecessor, Conover often said, humbly, “Thurl is my hero.”
Director Diane Challis Davy, who became Pageant director in 1995, remembered Conover with fondness, especially his sense of humor and work ethic.
“One of his favorite expressions,” she recalled, was illegitimi non carborundum, a fake Latin phrase that he roughly translated as ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down’.”
Challis Davy also acknowledged, “Like Thurl, Skip loved the job, and hated to give it up.”
Ironically, both Ravenscroft and Conover ultimately chose to retire when knee pain made the climb to the booth at the back of the Irvine Bowl impossible.
“ Skip brought a contemporary and conversational approach to the material that drew you in,” said scriptwriter Dan Duling. “And his years as a musician paid dividends as well. Where some narrators lead and expect the orchestra to follow them, Skip had a gift for picking up the rhythm of the music and marrying his narration to its tempos.”
For 17 seasons, Conover not only showed up to do his job as Pageant narrator, but remained a devoted friend and loyal ally who enjoyed a good joke and absolutely loved a bad one.