You may not recognize the names or faces, but the voices you know. They might tell you to stand clear of closing doors, that your favorite show is coming up, or that it looks like rain. Read on to learn the stories behind five familiar voices.
The Voice: Johnny Gilbert
The Story: Each day, thousands of trivia junkies and elderly folks hear the siren call: “This is Jeopardy!” Johnny Gilbert, the man behind those words, started out as a choirboy at his Lutheran Church in Newport News, Virginia, which led him to pursue a singing career. He hit the entertainment circuit when he left his home state (for the first time) and traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, for an audition with the Dean Hudson Orchestra. He missed that audition, which turned out to be a twist of fate. Gilbert was hired as an emcee at the Sky Way club, and his announcing career was born. Still, he never gave up singing, even while serving in the army—he played the starring role in a military musical called Xanadu.
After serving his country, Gilbert lit up the small screen as host of Music Bingo, cementing his role as a gob for game shows, and leading to the recording of his first album. After working on a few more programs, including The Johnny Gilbert Show, Gilbert’s voice earned him the legendary position of Jeopardy! announcer for the Alex Trebek incarnation, which first aired in 1984. Gilbert’s impassioned intro has been setting hearts (and heart monitors) aflutter ever since.
Voice of: The $25,000 Pyramid, The Joker’s Wild, Tic Tac Dough, Anything for Money, Every Second Counts, The Price is Right and Jeopardy!, among other programs
Famous Phrases: “This is JEOPARDY!”
The Voice: Don LaFontaine
The Story: In a world where movie previews had yet to strike a dramatic cord, 13-year-old Don LaFontaine’s voice changed right in the middle of sentence. And on that day, the puberty Gods blessed young LaFontaine with a gift of great power. During his school days in Duluth, Minnesota, LaFontaine used his manly cords mainly for evil—for example, imitating his friends’ fathers to get them out of class. But after a stint in the Army as a recording engineer, LaFontaine moved to New York City, where he got into the sound editing business. Along with fellow soundman Floyd L. Peterson, LaFontaine helped shape the format of the modern movie trailer, and, in 1965, his voice got its big break. When an announcer failed to show up to narrate a preview for Gunfighters of Casa Grande for MGM, LaFontaine grabbed the reins.
LaFontaine went on to head up his own production company—its first gig was Godfather: Part II—and was the longtime voice of Paramount Pictures. He passed away on September 1, 2008, at 68.
Voice of: NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, UPN, TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Budweiser, McDonalds, Coke, and nearly 5,000 films
Famous Phrases: “In a world,” “A one-man army,” “No where to run, no where to hide and no way out.”
Here’s a clip of Don talking about his life and career:
The Voice: Jack Wagner
The Story: If you’ve been on the monorail at Disneyland, you’ve probably wondered just who was behind that cocoa and butterscotch voice—the fatherly presence that warned you to stand clear of the doors and pointed out Cinderella’s castle. Well, that would be vocal veteran Jack Wagner.
Like most folks associated with Mickey and the gang, Wagner got into the fame game at an early age (four). That’s when he began dubbing American-made movies into his parents’ native French. During the ‘50s, Wagner made appearances on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, and also appeared on shows like Sea Hunt and Dragnet.
In 1955, Wagner was invited to the opening of Disneyland, which led to a string of jobs doing narration for parades and voicing announcements. By the beginning of the ‘70s, he was a production consultant and park announcer. Although vocal cord surgery forced him to retire in 1991, his voice continued to haunt the park like some kind of friendly ghost—even after he died of a heart attack in 1995.
Voice of: Disney Parks and trams at Orlando International Airport
Famous phrases: “Enjoy your stay,” “Keep your arms and legs inside the coach,” “All aboard!”
Listen to Mr. Wagner narrate this Space Mountain clip:
The Voice: Russ Leatherman
The Story: Not everyone subscribes to French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema; some folks just want to know when the latest blockbuster’s playing. To help simplify the movie-going process, Russ Leatherman co-founded Moviefone in 1989. Leatherman is best known for his distinctive, yet schmaltzy voice, which has been parodied on both Seinfeld and The Simpsons. He’s in on the joke—Leatherman has described his character’s phone voice as “Dick Clark on crack.” Up until 2000, Leatherman had to bite his famous tongue with regard to the quality of the films. But when AOL bought his company for $388 million in stock, Leatherman started meting out his cinematic opinions as a movie reviewer for ABC-7 in Los Angeles, leading gigs on the radio, CNN, and the Internet.
The Voice of: Moviefone
Famous Phrases: “Hello and welcome to Moviefone!”
Here’s Mr. Moviefone in action:
The Voice: Jane Barbe
The Story: She’s purred in the ears of many men as they lay tangled in the sheets of seedy hotels. No, she’s not a sex phone operator—she’s the Time Lady, the voice of the wake-up calls and weather reports that were piped through telephone lines for 40 years. Although she retired in February 2003 and died in July of that same year, Jane Barbe’s messages have been heard by a good portion of America.
Barbe grew up in Atlanta, where she was a sorority girl at the University of Georgia—a Tri-Delt president, no less. She met her husband, John, while they were on tour with the Buddy Morrow Orchestra, and the pair went on to create and produce music for commercials, industrial films, and shows. She began phoning it in when she joined up with the Audichron Company in the mid ‘60s, where she became the voice of the time, temperature, weather, and various and sundry other announcements for the next 40 years.
Voice of: ETC’s Audichron time, temperature, weather announcers and intercept systems.
Famous Phrases: “At the tone, the time will be 10:52.” “I’m sorry, your number cannot be completed as dialed.”