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Visiting voices on the Simpsons

We review the list of celebrities including Kathleen Turner and Neil Patrick Harris, who’ve lent their vocal talents to the show

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Back in the ’60s, the height of TV hip was a gig on Batman. Today, the guest shot with the coolest cachet is lending your voice to The Simpsons. Since 1989, when the bug-eyed, yellow-faced family startled viewers and became Fox’s first hit, more than 50 famous people have improbably shown up in the cartoon town of Springfield or had their voices spring from the mouths of its denizens. The visitors have been a democracy of fame, ranging from legendary stars to newcomers, from singers to a swinger, from athletes to an astronaut. And yet the Simpsons themselves remain unchanged by their repeated brushes with celebrity.

On April 28, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie will breathlessly race to their ratty couch for the 100th time. After five years, 3,000 minutes, and dozens of Bart’s punitive scribblings on the Springfield Elementary School blackboard (I will not encourage others to fly…I will not yell ”She’s dead” during roll call…I will not belch the national anthem…), the Simpsons continue to be both the quintessential middle-class family and a collection of lunatic mutants willing to take into their home a very large, white insane- asylum refugee who claims to be Michael Jackson (and just happens to sound remarkably like the Gloved One). To honor the family, we asked a few of Springfield’s better-known visitors what it was like to be turned into a Simpsons cartoon.

KATHLEEN TURNER ROLE: Stacy Lovell, creator of the Barbie-like Malibu Stacy doll. THE EXPERIENCE: ”They sent me a script and I flipped over it. It was such a close reflection of my daughter’s and my disagreement over all that stupid Barbie stuff…. I thought I looked like Lauren Bacall. I pictured (the character) much less attractive.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Lisa. ”She’s just so outspoken. She’s just instinctively on the correct ethical side.”

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS ROLE: A grown-up version of Bart. THE EXPERIENCE: ”The Neil version of Bart was pretty funny. It was kind of like Bart with a pug nose. (I had) just three lines. But it was cool to watch everyone improvising.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Homer. ”I like going, ‘DOH!’ I do it often in my daily life.”

SARA GILBERT ROLE: Laura, a neighbor Bart has a crush on. THE EXPERIENCE: ”She was the coolest. They went for some characteristics based on how people in America see me. It’s very Darlene-esque, more so than Sara-esque.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Apu, the Indian owner of the Kwik-E-Mart. ”I like that accent.”

JAMES WOODS ROLE: Himself-he runs Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart to prepare for a movie role as a convenience-store clerk. THE EXPERIENCE: ”My kid brother said (the caricature) was uncanny and it was hysterical how accurate they were.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Lisa. ”She has a monopoly on the brains in the family- she’s my role model.”

SMOKIN’ JOE FRAZIER ROLE: Himself-the ex-heavyweight champ slugs (Homer’s friend) Barney outside Moe’s Tavern and later presents Homer with an award. THE EXPERIENCE: ”They called and said, ‘We got a paying job for you where you don’t have to get hit.’ I think the episode would have been more realistic if my character had hit the loudmouth Ali instead of the loudmouth at the bar.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Homer. ”He is the closest to my age.”

LARRY KING ROLE: The reader of a “books on tape” Bible. (King will appear as himself next season, moderating a mayoral debate.) THE EXPERIENCE: “It’s like doing radio. You get to work in jeans and T-shirt.”

BOB HOPE ROLE: Himself-he crowns Lisa “Junior Miss Springfield” with a melted tiara after the first winner is struck by lightning. THE EXPERIENCE: “Actually, they made me look fairly good. Well, anyway, they made me look younger. Dolores (his wife) thought I never looked better. I played myself, but I could have used a little more time to get into the role.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Bart. “He’s such a role model.”

LINDA RONDSTADT ROLE: Herself-she sings a jingle in a commercial for Barney’s snow-removal service. THE EXPERIENCE: “I hadn’t watched TV for years and years; now (since doing the show) I’m an incurable TV addict. All I knew (about the show) was that Republican rhetoric about it ruining the morals of our country. When I saw the tape I was blown away. It was this extremely humane sort of show that offered great encouragement to have kindness and compassion. So I did it. (Her caricature) was the country-rock edition superimposed over the Mexican-music edition of me. And I had this great upper lip.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Lisa, particularly in an episode in which she refuses to go to school. “I loved when she played the sax; it just spoke to me.”

BROOKE SHIELDS ROLE: Herself-she cohosts an award show with Krusty the Clown. THE EXPERIENCE: “It’s amazing how much like me (the caricature) was, with the big eyebrows and big hair. Other people said, ‘You’re so cool. I can’t believe you’re on that show.’ It’s the hip show to do.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: “Maggie whenever she sucks on her little pacifier. I’ve always loved her persona.”

ALBERT BROOKS ROLES: Jacques (a bowling instructor who tries to seduce Marge) and a used- car salesman. THE EXPERIENCE: “You look at (the characters) and say, ‘Does it look like you? How’s the chin?’ But I’m healthy enough not to compare cartoon characters to me. Compared to Marge, I looked fine. I like the idea of Marge almost having an affair with a bowling instructor. Of course, that’s spread to all cartoons now. Did you hear about Bambi? Having an affair with another animal. I can’t talk about it.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: “I don’t play favorites with cartoons. I singled out Goofy a long time ago and I’ve been paying ever since.”

DR. JOYCE BROTHERS ROLE: A panelist on the show Smartline. THE EXPERIENCE: “You know, there are three sine qua nons in our culture: being in the New York Times crossword puzzle, being on the cover of Time, and being a guest voice on The Simpsons. I loved it! They made me with an overbite.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Marge. “She is bedrock calm and very loving. She is the glue that holds the family together.”

WADE BOGGS ROLE: Himself-Mr. Burns recruits the then-Red Sox third baseman for his all-star softball team. THE EXPERIENCE: “I had a Simpsons party at my house the night it aired. My kids still walk by the (photos) of my cartoon and start laughing.” FAVORITE CHARACTER: Bart. “He’s the total nightmare kid for parents.”

JAMES BROWN ROLE: Himself, singing “I Got You (I Feel Good)” with the Springfield marching band. THE EXPERIENCE: “It was good, clean, and humorous. And we need more of that around. Long live the Simpsons!”

Reporting by Heather Keets, Kirsten McCumber, Kate Meyers, and Jessica Shaw

WHO’S WHO

1. Tracey Ullman as Emily Winthrop 2. Barry White 3. Hugh Hefner 4. Tom Jones 5. Dr. Joyce Brothers 6. Joe Frazier 7. Ringo Starr 8. Albert Brooks as Jacques 9. Bette Midler 10. Sting 11. Adam West 12. David Crosby 13. Michelle Pfeiffer as Mindy 14. Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob 15. James Taylor 16. Buzz Aldrin 17. Danny DeVito as Herb Simpson 18. Brooke Shields 19. Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony 20. James Woods 21. James Brown 22. Elizabeth Taylor 23. Magic Johnson 24. Harvey Fierstein as Karl 25. Jon Lovitz as Llewellyn Sinclair 26. Neil Patrick Harris as a cross between Bart Simpson and Doogie Howser 27. Kathleen Turner as Stacy Lovell 28. Johnny Carson 29. Michael Jackson in an uncredited role as an insane-asylum inmate who says he’s Michael Jackson 30. Ernest Borgnine 31. Tony Bennett 32. Darryl Strawberry 33. Penny Marshall as Ms. Botz 34. Dustin Hoffman in the uncredited role of Mr. Bergstrom 35. Wade Boggs 36. Bob Hope 37. Leonard Nimoy 38. Conan O’Brien 39. Sara Gilbert as Laura Powers 40. Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz 41. Luke Perry filling in for Sideshow Bob 42. Linda Ronstadt