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.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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The 15 Best Netflix Original Series

Tim Robinson stars in I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.
Tim Robinson stars in I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.
Netflix

Netflix is a cultural Rorschach test. In addition to being a revolution of the way we watch movies and television, it's a prestige factory that's helping to bring Oscar-quality entertainment to your home. And it's massive enough to be whatever you need it to be at whatever time you need it.

Seven years after House of Cards changed our perceptions of what streaming content could look like, Netflix has amassed a library of more than 100 original series (and that's only counting the English language stuff). Here are 15 of the best of them.

1. Russian Doll (2019- )

Nadia (Natasha Lyonne, who also co-created the series) is a game developer stuck in a time loop that keeps killing her and depositing her back at her own birthday party. If you roll your eyes at Groundhog Day situations, roll them back, because this incredibly inventive take from Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler is deeply funny, strange, sad, and celebratory all at once. One woman's existential crisis is our binge-worthy content. As a bonus, Harry Nilsson's "Gotta Get Up" will be permanently stuck in your brain.

2. Dear White People (2017- )

Based on his (also excellent) 2014 feature, Justin Simien takes us back to prestigious Winchester University, where social justice bard Samantha White (Logan Browning) navigates the growing pains of collegiate romance and friendship while trying to make her classmates recognize the social divisions at their school. Through three seasons (with a fourth coming in 2020), the show has faithfully delivered outrageous humor with its singular blend of satire and soap opera.

3. GLOW (2017- )

Anchored by Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and a stellar ensemble cast, GLOW follows a group of women who launch a wrestling show backed by a trust fund kid and a cranky cult horror director (brilliantly played by Marc Maron). It scored laughs from how awkward everything was early on, but the show really sailed when Brie and her cohorts began to fully own the weird, wonderful spandex assault they were creating. Now it's about keeping that show, their group, and their personal lives intact.

4. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (2019- )

Tim Robinson is a Saturday Night Live alum whose sketch show couldn't be further from that mainstay's sensibilities. Where SNL is the McDonald's of comedy, I Think You Should Leave is the hole-in-the-wall place only you and your friends love because it keeps changing the menu with new dishes you can't get anywhere else. It's fair to call the show outlandish, but its comic brilliance stems from the simplicity of its setups and the deranged lengths that the characters go to in order to stick with that premise. Learn nothing else and dive in.

5. BoJack Horseman (2014-2020)

It's the silly cartoon show here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff. Like emo music for grownups, Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt's brilliant series focuses on the addiction, self-loathing, and career envy of its titular anti-hero as he attempts to crawl out of the cheesy '80s sitcom stardom of his past and into something more respected. No other show can get away with this many animal puns while exploring the depths of despair that result from trying to fill a bottomless pit in your soul.

6. Master of None (2015- )

Allora! Although it has dipped its toe into experimentation, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang's relationship comedy works largely because of the likability of Dev Shah (its main character, played by Ansari). It's buoyant and feels like you're hanging out with friends but, fair warning, it will make you deliriously hungry for pasta.

7. Sex Education (2019- )

Plenty of high school comedies have focused on how awkward sex and romance is for high schoolers, but this fantastic show from Laurie Nunn wanted to raise the stakes by making the young, sexually ambivalent main character's mom a sex therapist. In another ingenious move, they hired Gillian Anderson to play that sex therapist mom, and she delivers all the frank, embarrassing talk you could possibly ask for. So what happens when the insecure son of a sex therapist starts his own sex therapy side hustle to help his high school friends? An excellent, empathetic series that uses its laughs as a release.

8. Sense8 (2015-2018)

Eight strangers living all over the world discover they are emotionally connected to each other. They can feel what others in their cluster are feeling and can communicate with each other despite physical separation. Teaming with comic book and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, the Wachowskis have pulled another big-think, sci-fi rabbit out of their hats with this globetrotting thriller that's never met a third-rail issue it didn't want to explore. When they're not running from a mysterious entity bent on their destruction, the fascinatingly diverse crew of connected characters break down everything you're not supposed to talk about at the dinner table. So maybe we should be talking about them around the dinner table?

9. Orange is the New Black (2013-2019)

One of Netflix's original originals is still one of its best. Jenji Kohan found a perfect follow-up to Weeds with this adaptation of Piper Kerman's memoir about a young suburban woman going to a minimum-security prison. The fish-out-of-water comedy, drama, and horror only lasts as long as it takes for the show to blossom into a gorgeous, emotional roller coaster that shines the spotlight on all of its women—from the surly cook Red (Kate Mulgrew) to the sweet/troubled Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba)—to humanize them beyond the personas they adopt to survive. The show is a hilarious self-peeling onion, tears and all.

10. Astronomy Club (2019- )

Within the first two minutes of Astronomy Club, a talking garlic bulb shoots a gun at Dracula and shouts "Tryin' get this money in 2020, baby!" Fortunately, it gets weirder. This sketch show from some Upright Citizens Brigade alums is framed around a fake reality show that wisely lets us get to know these new performers while mocking every Real World descendant and the cast themselves. The comedy ranges from self-aware and absurdist to straightforward and even socially-conscious, and it all blends together smoothly. A one-of-a-kind winner.

11. The Crown (2016- )

Peter Morgan's historical drama has taken advantage of the new format and the lengthy reign of Queen Elizabeth II to craft a charming, devilish exploration of the scandals and triumphs of her adult life. As The Crown has covered decades and decades, it has shifted from Claire Foy playing the young queen (post-WWII) to Olivia Colman playing her through middle age (Winston Churchill's death and Soviet espionage intrigue) and will eventually star Imelda Staunton as the older queen closing out the show in the early 2000s (the years, not her age). It's an anglophile's delight with keen dramatic instincts and a huge list of world events to tackle.

12. Mindhunter (2017- )

Based on Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, the series—created by Joe Penhall and executive produced by David Fincher—uncovers our earliest understanding of serial killers and the pioneering research conducted by letting FBI agents interview the country's most notorious murderers about their crimes. The fictionalized team played by Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv battle bureaucracy and old paradigms in order to get their fledgling, vital program to succeed in using the criminal mind to help solve future cases. It's a delicate, gorgeous show exploring our worst impulses, and, chillingly, uses real serial killers' own words to describe their acts.

13. Stranger Things (2016- )

If there were an Audience Choice Award winner for this list, this nostalgia-bomb from the Duffer Brothers would score it. An absolute phenomenon that stuffs Steven Spielberg, The X-Men, and D&D into a blender and pours the results into a Trapper Keeper, the adventures of the psychokinetic Eleven and her band of merry young men are wondrously creepy fun. Perfect PG-13 horror where puberty and a Cthulhu-esque behemoth from a different dimension are equally strong villains.

14. The OA (2016-2019)

After being missing for seven years, a blind woman named Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling) resurfaces with the ability to see and calling herself the Original Angel. The series is a stunning blend of sci-fi and fantasy that explores past trauma and near-death experiences with the backdrop of dimension-hopping adventure. It's an epic, intimate story that's truly unlike anything else, and diving into the magnetic first episode comes with the risk of getting addicted to a series that (for now) ends on a cliffhanger.

15. American Vandal (2017-2018)

American Scandal is undoubtedly the best show ever made about misdemeanor penis drawings. What might have been a crass, surface-level parody of our obsession with true crime stories is elevated to the highest of comedic heights due to the unwavering dedication to taking its juvenile crimes seriously. The first season focuses on a high school slacker who swears he's innocent of drawing the aforementioned phalluses on dozens of cars in the school parking lot while the second uncovers the truth about who spiked cafeteria lemonade with a laxative to cause an event known as "The Brownout." Imbued with all the twists and obsessively granular details of Serial, it's a miracle that they filmed any of it with a straight face.