10 Famous Disembodied Voices

iStock / Vadym Terelyuk
iStock / Vadym Terelyuk

1. Amtrak's "Julie"

Believe it or not, the famous Amtrak Julie, who debuted in 2001, is actually named Julie... Julie Stinneford of Boston, MA, that is, who won the role after an extensive audition process. She's so lifelike, oftentimes riders say they didn't immediately realize Amtrak's Julie is a computer program. All those informal expressions, like when she says, "Great!" or "Got it!" -- those were recorded on purpose after Amtrak conducted a survey and learned that most people prefer their automated operators on the colloquial side (as opposed to live operators, who people seem to prefer on the formal side... go figure). In handling about a quarter of Amtrak's annual call volume Julie has saved railroad tens of millions.

Julie has become such a hit that NPR once set her up on a computerized Valentines date with Tom, Mr. Customer Service for United Airlines. Sadly, the romantic conversation derailed when the real voices behind the computer personalities started arguing which was the best mode of transportation: plane or train.

Here's an impromptu recording I made of Julie. While the voice-recognition is mostly there, she still had a hard time figuring out my juvenile sense of humor.

2. The London Underground's "Mind The Gap" Lady

"Mind the gap" has become as iconic to London as double-decker buses or the London Bridge. For those who aren't familiar with it, the gap is the space between the subway car and the platform. Emma Clarke, one of the more famous voices of the Tube, as it's sometimes called, recorded her first announcements for the Underground in 1999. Clarke, of Altrincham, Cheshire, was born in 1970 and is a married mother of two. Besides her freelance voiceover work, she's also an accomplished writer who has penned shows for the BBC. She's also a regular contributor to BBC's 5Live.

Mind the Sack! It's widely believed that Clarke was terminated from a job at the London Underground in 2007 after posting spoof messages on her Web site. But that isn't what happened. Clarke was misquoted in the press as saying she never used the London Underground and hated tube trains; as a result a spokesman from LU told reporters that Ms. Clarke's contract was experiencing "severe delays." Cue global media frenzy. Today, Clarke's voice is still used on the London Underground and she continues to work as a freelance voiceover, writer and broadcaster. She has never been an employee of London Underground. Ever. And she does use and love tube trains. Fact. 

3. Ms. "AT&T"

The phrase "AT&T" has made Pat Fleet's voice one of the most famous and recognizable in the country. Since 1981, she's recorded tens of thousands of phone messages for various phone companies including AT&T, Verizon, and Bell Systems. Born Patricia Curry on September 11, 1943 in Dayton, Ohio, Fleet first recorded messages for the Bell System's Automated Coin Toll System. In the late "˜80s, customer surveys showed that of all AT&T's voices, Fleet's was the one people preferred most, so she landed the gig recording her most famous phrase, "AT&T," which is the company's signature sound.

4. Mr. "In a world where"¦"

He had nicknames like V.O.G. (Voice of God) and "Thunder Throat." He projected the image of a giant man, despite being only 5'8 ½. His voice was one of the most recognizable and beloved movie trailer voices of all-time... the one everyone else still imitates...

Don LaFontaine was born in Duluth, Minnesota on August 26, 1940. "The King of Voiceovers" was famous for trailers that began "In a world where"¦." So famous, he spoofed himself on a Geico commercial shortly before his death a couple years ago. He provided voiceovers for more than 5,000 movie and videogame trailers, commercials and promotions during his 33-year career. At his peak, he was doing as many as 60 promotions per week, and sometimes as many as 35 in a single day right out of his own home recording studio.

5. Ms. GPS

Though first a singer, Karen Jacobsen is known best for giving driving directions. She is the voice of GPS. Born in Mackay, Australia, she now resides in New York. When the Global Positioning System needed a voice in 2005, they decided the most desirable candidate would be an Australian now living in the Northeastern United States. Jacobsen won the audition and her voice guides drivers the world over. To create the computerized speech system, Jacobsen had to record 50 hours of script to get every possible combination of syllables. Then, the behind-the-scenes tech wizards cut it all up to work in their computer program.

6. Mr. Moviephone

Russ Leatherman was born in 1962 and helped to found Moviephone in 1989. A decade later, in 1999, Moviephone was purchased by AOL. Leatherman's voice has become famous and his reviews are featured weekly on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel as well as radio staions coast to coast. Being a pop icon always leads to parody; as the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and Russ Leatherman should surely be flattered. His iconic "Hello and welcome to Moviephone!" has been parodied on shows such as Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and who can forget the classic "Why don't you just tell me what movie you want to see?" from Seinfeld.

7. Mr. BT Speaking Clock

Brian Cobby, who began his career as a telephone exchange worker, was selected from more than 5,000 British Telephone employees to be the voice of BT's famous speaking clock. He went on to beat out the other 11 finalist who were all female, to become the first and, to date, only male voice of the BT speaking clock. In case you're not familiar with the service, in the United Kingdom, the speaking clock can be reached by dialing 123 on a BT phone line. It's automated, of course, but back in the day there were actual people sitting in windowless rooms answering the phone and relaying the time.

Cobby was born on October 12, 1929. He was the voice of the clock for more than 22 years, before finally being replaced in 2007 by Sara Mendes da Costa.

8. Mr. "You've Got Mail!"

During the reign of AOL, "You've Got Mail!" - the three words that revolutionized e-mail and even inspired a movie, was heard more than 27 million times a day (more than 18,000 times a minute). Though AOL eventually went on to get famous folk to record the catch-phrase, the original was voiced by Elwood Edwards, who also did AOL's "Welcome," "File's done," and "Goodbye."

But how did he land the job in the first place? Well, in 1989, his wife was working in customer service for Quantum Computer Services. Quantum had an online service called Q-Link. One day, she overheard the company's CEO, Steve Case -- yes, the guy who went on to launch AOL -- telling someone how he wanted to incorporate a real person's voice into the service. She barked, "Hey, you ought to try Elwood." It made sense, seeing as her husband had spent his long career in local radio and TV. So he spoke those original four phrases into a cassette tape and was soon on his way to becoming a disembodied voice legend.

In an interview, his wife once remarked: "A few times, when he's been taking a nap, I've logged onto AOL - and he's woken himself up!"

9. Ms. BT

Pat Whymark, the voice of BT Telephone services (as well as the NHS Swine Flu Hotline), began her career studying acting at Royal Welsh Collage of Music and Drama. In addition to providing voiceovers for numerous commercials, films, and BBC documentaries, Whymark helped to found the Eastern Angels Theatre Company where she composed music for several plays. Whymark now works solely as a voiceover artist for Voice-Prompt.

10. Ms. Voicemail

On top of being a best selling-author, consultant, and media personality, Dr. Joan Kenley is also known as the "voice of voicemail." She has recorded voicemail messages for Nortel, Pacific Bell, Verizon, and Sprint voicemail systems. She's a talk show host and a psychologist, and involved in all sorts of squishy New Age sounding things: She's a core member of The Millionth Circle, an international, grass-roots, volunteer movement comprised of women who believe that gathering in circles is a powerful way to create positive change in world consciousness.

D'oh! yeah: she's also the "telephone lady" on a few episodes of The Simpsons.

Disney's 10 Scariest Movies

Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney: Known for catchy songs, cute animal sidekicks, brave Princesses … and occasionally scarring children for life. A lot of Disney’s more famously upsetting moments have to do with deathBambi’s mother and Mufasa’s father, for instance—but sometimes the studio goes plain horror movie with it. As Halloween approaches, here are 10 of Disney’s scariest movies.

1. Return to Oz (1985)

Return Oz establishes its “wait, what the hell am I watching?” cred early on, when Dorothy Gale—back in Kansas following her adventures in Oz—is shipped off to the doctor for a round of electroshock therapy to cure her insomnia and “delusions.” Dorothy is saved from her One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fate and whisked off to Oz again, where she finds that the Nome King and Princess Mombi—Nicol Williamson and Jean Marsh, who also played the doctor and head nurse—have destroyed the Emerald City and turned most of its inhabitants to stone. Playing Dorothy in her first feature film role is Fairuza Balk, who would go on to star in perpetual Halloween favorite The Craft. Return to Oz is the only film directed by legendary editor Walter Murch, most famous for his work on Apocalypse Now.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

The collected works of Ray Bradbury have been adapted into dozens of films, only a handful of which were written by the late author himself. The final feature film to be written by Bradbury is 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which in its first act is a typical, sweet—if somewhat dark—drama about two young boys growing up in a small town in the Midwest. Then a carnival rolls into town, and things get real messed up. Running the carnival is Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), who grants the townspeople’s wishes in ways that … well, let’s just say they’re not very nice.

3. Mr. Boogedy (1986)

“Made-for-TV ‘80s movie about a gag gift salesman and his family” doesn’t scream terror, but Mr. Boogedy defies the odds to have some legitimately creepy moments. Granted, it’s not a subtle film: a family that moves into a dilapidated mansion in a town called called Lucifer Falls shouldn’t really expect to have an easy go of things. The mansion, believe it or not, is haunted by not one but three spirits: a widow, her child, and the eponymous Mr. Boogedy, who back in Colonial times sold his soul to Satan for a cloak that gives him magical powers. It’s Mr. Boogedy’s character design that gives the movie its biggest ick factor; the film’s makeup designer, Rick Stratton, would go on to win two Emmys. Mr. Boogedy’s cloak is eventually sucked into a possessed vacuum cleaner.

4. The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Director John Hough’s The Watcher in the Woods isn’t only scary because it gives Bette Davis and current Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star (and then-child actress) Kyle Richards a decent chunk of shared screen time. Based on a 1976 novel, the film—like Mr. Boogedy—follows a family that moves into a mysterious house haunted by some mysterious presence. In The Watcher in the Woods, that presence is thought to be Karen, the long-disappeared daughter of the house’s owner, played by a collecting-those-paychecks Davis. Spoiler alert: There are actually two presences. One is Karen. The other is an alien. The original ending of The Watcher in the Woods actually showed the alien, but the effects were so bad that the premiere audience broke out laughing, causing Hough to reshoot the climactic final scene with the aliens as a vague blur of light.

5. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Released in 1949, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is made up of two half-hour, kid-friendly literary adaptations, the first from The Wind in the Willows and the second from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Neither segment is particularly scary … up until the last few minutes of “Sleepy Hollow,” when the animators went all-out to make schoolteacher Ichabod Crane’s flight from the Headless Horseman a contender for Disney’s scariest scene. Clyde Geronimi, who with Jack Kinney directed the “Sleepy Hollow” sequence, would go on to co-direct Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmatians.

6. Pinocchio (1940)

Jiminy Cricket hopping around and The Blue Fairy singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” might be the most enduring images from Disney’s second-ever animated feature, but let’s not forget that Pinocchio could be scary when it needed to be. The film’s most potent bit of nightmare fuel comes in the scene where a bunch of children are magically transformed into terrified, crying donkeys so they could be sold away as slave labor. Looks like Disney had a taste for causing childhood trauma early on.

7. “The Skeleton Dance” (1929)

Spooky and cute: Why not both? The 1929 short “The Skeleton Dance” threads the needle deftly, with its depiction of a quartet of skeletons dancing around a graveyard maintaining the goofy tone that marks most of the early Disney shorts while still providing an ample dose of the shivers. “The Skeleton Dance” was drawn by Ub Iwerks, who several years earlier had designed Mickey Mouse.

8. Fantasia (1940)

Most of the segments in Disney’s Fantasia are markedly un-creepy—unless you consider ballet-dancing hippos disturbing, which makes a fair amount of sense—but with “Night on Bald Mountain,” Disney went full dark and stormy night. Set to the title song by composer Modest Mussorgsky, the film depicts the ancient Slavic deity Chernabog (whose name means “black god) calling all sorts of assorted demonic creatures to him before being driven away by the rising of the sun. Bela Lugosi served as a live-action reference for Chernabog, spending a day at Disney Studios striking a series of ominous poses. Nothing that Lugosi provided was ultimately used, as animator Bill Tylta was unimpressed by it.

9. The Black Cauldron (1985)

The Black Cauldron was an infamous failure for Disney, earning a mere $20 million domestically against a budget that made it, at the time, "the most expensive animated feature ever made.” With the film, Disney ditched the songs and lighthearted feel that marked its animated features up to that point in favor of a darker fantasy epic; notably, The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature to earn a PG rating. Though it’s notoriously regarded as a flop, there’s one area in which The Black Cauldron is quite successful: making its villain, the Horned King, absolutely terrifying. Even the way he dies is nightmare-inducing: The magical black cauldron that the Horned King hoped would give him power to take over the world with an undead army instead melts his flesh off. It’s a bit more gruesome than the typically death-by-falling most Disney villains get.

10. Hocus Pocus (1993)

Initially released in 1993 to middling box office returns (Disney made the odd choice to release this Halloween-themed movie in July), director Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus has gone on to achieve cult status. Omri Katz, since retired from acting, stars as Max Dennison, who with neighbor Allison and younger sister Dani must defeat the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches who were hanged during the Salem witch trials. One of the witches was played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose ancestor Esther Elwell was accused of being a witch in 17th-century Salem; she escaped execution when prosecution from witchcraft was done away with.

9 French Insults You Should Know

Rawf8/iStock via Getty Images
Rawf8/iStock via Getty Images

Ah, France—internationally synonymous with fine wines, fashion, and elegant cheeses. As it turns out, the country is home to some pretty fine insults, too, as the list below demonstrates. If you need some more ways to express your distaste in a foreign language, we've also got you covered with insults in German. (If historical insults are more your speed, you can peruse these old English insults, or learn how to level a sick burn like Teddy Roosevelt.)

1. Va te faire cuire un oeuf // "Go cook yourself an egg."

Figuratively speaking, this means “leave me alone.” Historically, the idea is that men would criticize their wives cooking dinner, who would then respond, "Go fry yourself an egg"—reminding their mates that they're incapable of cooking anything other than an egg.

2. Bête comme ses pieds // "You are as stupid as your feet."

The feet are the furthest part of the body from the brain, so supposedly, the most stupid. Besides, have you ever seen smart feet?

3. Péter plus haut de son cul // "To fart higher than your ass."

If you have gas in your stomach and try to expel it above your behind, you will fail. It's just too ambitious. This phrase means that a person is arrogant, or thinks they are able to do impossible things. They're a show-off, basically.

4. Poule mouillée // "Wet chicken"

Chickens are not known for their bravery. Especially when it rains, they try to hide, as ridiculous as that may be. A wet chicken is someone who is afraid of everything.

5. Mange tes morts // "Eat your dead."

You use this insult when you are very mad at someone. The original meaning is "You have no respect." It's said to have started among the Yenish people—a European ethnic minority with nomadic origins.

6. Sac à merde // "Bag of sh**"

No need for explanation right? Speaks for itself. Often used while driving.

7. Tête de noed // "Knot face"

Someone stupid. Literally, the knot refers to the tip of the penis, but in essence the term has a meaning similar to (but even ruder) than the English dickhead.

8. Couillon/Couillonne // "Little testicle"

A relatively mild insult that means something like "idiot" in English.

9. Con comme une valise sans poignée // "As stupid as a suitcase without a handle."

What good is a suitcase if you can't carry it? In a similar vein, "con comme un balais" means "as dumb as a broom."

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