Originally created 07/13/97

Talking taxis



NEW YORK (AP) - The smoky voice, unmistakable, fills the cab like a kitten's soft purr. It's Eartha Kitt, and the sultry entertainer wants you ... to fasten your seat belt.

The ex-Catwoman is one of seven celebrity voices destined for New York's 12,053 medallion cabs next month as the city enlists some star power in a campaign to emphasize taxi safety.

"I'll grant you it's a gimmick," Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Diane McGrath-McKechnie says. "But it's a gimmick with a purpose."

A digital device rigged to the taxi meter will allow passengers to hear the celebrities' voices when they enter and exit the cab. Joining Kitt in the talking taxis are comedians Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers, actor Judd Hirsch of "Taxi" fame, New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, sex therapist Ruth Westheimer and tenor Placido Domingo.

"This is Eartha Kitt," the renowned performer begins in a soft, seductive tone. "Cats have nine lives. Rowwwwrrrrrr. But unfortunately, you have only one. So buckle your seat belts for safety."

At the end of the ride, her voice returns: "This is Eartha Kitt again, back to remind you to take your belongings with you and to get a receipt from the driver. Have a purrrrr-fect day. Rowwwwrrrrrr."

Other celebrities have signed on, and the voices will change every four to six months.

Of the celeb participants so far, it turns out Domingo had the most personal reason.

In April, he took a cab home from the Metropolitan Opera House to a Manhattan recording studio. Domingo jumped out and left a briefcase filled with important sheet music.

A cabbie found and returned the briefcase. When McGrath-McKechnie subsequently met with Domingo, she mentioned the campaign and he quickly agreed to participate.

"Take all of your belongings with you as you leave the cab," the tenor says. "I'll see you at the opera."