J. Russell Leatherman talks about being the man behind the voice

By A.J. Jacobs
April 05, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

Fran Drescher has nothing on J. Russell Leatherman. The 33-year-old Los Angeles resident possesses the larynx Americans love to hate — the one behind the turbocharged phrase ”Helloo! And welcome to MovieFone!!” Leatherman, who is also president of the seven-year-old nationwide movie-information service, has inspired a Seinfeld plotline, lent his tones to Late Show With David Letterman, and been aped by practically everyone with a Touch-Tone phone. We decided to call up Mr. MovieFone and ask some questions other than what’s playing at the cineplex — all of which he answered in a freakishly normal alter voice.

Is Mr. Moviefone a sex symbol?
I did a radio interview the other day, and a woman asked me to pretend I was Mr. MovieFone in bed. I obliged her for a couple of seconds: ”If you want to go missionary, press 1.”

What has your voice been called?
Perky. Annoying. Somebody said I sounded like Dick Clark on crack.

What kind of phone do you have?
The cheapest Kmart phone you can imagine — although it does have Touch-Tone technology.

What’s the record for the longest Moviefone call?
I’m not sure. But what’s really peculiar is that a lot of people call MovieFone at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. What the hell are they doing? Are they really lonely? Is Mr. MovieFone their only source of consolation?

What are the best movies to say?
I like saying the action films because you can really put some balls into them. Like Die Hard With a VENGEANCE!! Hellraiser TWO!! I’m not very good at the Driving Miss Daisy-type films. Mr. MovieFone and them don’t go together. He’s not as laid-back as those titles dictate.

What are the worst to say?
I don’t particularly enjoy doing foreign-language films because I tend to butcher them. I used to get calls from directors and producers of films just screaming that I butchered the names. There was a movie out there, C’est la Vie — I pretty much called it SEST La VEE! Now I have an interpreter to help me through.

Do you know the Time Lady?
Many years ago, my mother was a time lady — one of the people who sat in a booth and said, ”The time is 4:45.” So I guess this phone thing is in my genes.

Was the movie Seven confusing for Moviefone users?
If you are retarded enough just to put in the number seven, about four seconds later, a prompt will come up and say, ”I’m sorry, you have to spell the name of the movie.”

How does Mr. Moviefone find the zone?
Mr. MovieFone only exists before 10 in the morning. Those Rated Rs really rumble when I’m just out of bed. I put on a baseball cap, a headset mike, and I transform just like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.