Melvin Jerome "Mel" Blanc (May 30, 1908 – July 10, 1989) was an American voice actor and comedian. Although he began his nearly six-decade-long career performing in radio commercials, Blanc is best remembered for his work with Warner Bros. as the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck,Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, the Tasmanian Devil and many of the other characters from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies theatrical cartoons, during the "Golden age of American animation". He later worked for Hanna-Barbera's television cartoons, most notably as the voices of Barney Rubble in The Flintstones and Mr. Spacely in The Jetsons. Blanc was also a regular performer on The Jack Benny Program, in both its radio and television formats. Having earned the nickname "The Man of a Thousand Voices", Blanc is regarded as one of the most influential people in the voice-acting industry. Blanc has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Boulevard.
Blanc was born Melvin Jerome Blank in San Francisco, California, to Jewish parents Frederick and Eva Blank. The younger of two children, he grew up in the neighborhood of Western Addition in San Francisco, and later in Portland, Oregon, where he attended Lincoln High School. Growing up, he had a fondness for voices and dialect, which he began voicing at the age of ten. He claimed when he was sixteen he changed the spelling from "Blank" to "Blanc," because a teacher told him that he would amount to nothing and be like his name, a "blank." Blanc joined The Order of DeMolayas a young man, and was eventually inducted into its Hall of Fame. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and split his time between leading an orchestra, becoming the youngest conductor in the country at the age of 17, and performing shtick in vaudeville shows around Washington, Oregon, and northern California.
Blanc began his radio career in 1927 as a voice actor on the KGW program The Hoot Owls, where his ability to provide voices for multiple characters first attracted attention. He moved to Los Angeles in 1932, where he met Estelle Rosenbaum, whom he married a year later, before returning to Portland. He moved to KEX in 1933 to produce and co-host his Cobweb And Nuts show with his wife Estelle, which debuted on June 15. The program played Monday through Saturday from 11:00 pm to midnight, and by the time the show ended two years later, it appeared from 10:30 pm to 11:00 pm.
Group photograph of Eddie Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny, Don Wilson, and Mel Blanc.
With his wife's encouragement, Blanc returned to Los Angeles and joined Warner Bros.-owned KFWB in Hollywood, California, in 1935. He joined The Johnny Murray Show, but the following year switched to CBS Radio and The Joe Penner Show. Blanc was a regular on the NBC Red Network show The Jack Benny Program in various roles, including voicing Benny's Maxwell automobile (in desperate need of a tune-up), violin teacher Professor LeBlanc, Polly the Parrot, Benny's pet polar bear Carmichael, the tormented department store clerk, and the train announcer (see below). The first role came from an mishap when the recording of the automobile's sounds failed to play on cue, prompting Blanc to take the microphone and improvise the sounds himself. The audience reacted so positively that Benny decided to dispense with the recording altogether and have Blanc continue in that role.
One of Blanc's most memorable characters from Benny's radio (and later TV) programs was "Sy, the Little Mexican", who spoke one word at a time. The famous "Sí...Sy...sew...Sue" routine was so effective that no matter how many times it was performed, the laughter was always there, thanks to the comedic timing of Blanc and Benny.
By 1946, Blanc appeared on over 15 radio programs in supporting roles. His success on The Jack Benny Program led to his own radio show on the CBS Radio Network, The Mel Blanc Show, which ran from September 3, 1946, to June 24, 1947. Blanc played himself as the hapless owner of a fix-it shop, as well as his young cousin Zookie.
Blanc also appeared on such other national radio programs as The Abbott and Costello Show, the Happy Postman on Burns and Allen, and as August Moon on Point Sublime. During World War II, he appeared as Private Sad Sack on various radio shows, most notably G.I. Journal. Blanc recorded a song titled "Big Bear Lake." For his contribution to radio, Mel Blanc has a star on theHollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Boulevard.
Animation voice work during the Golden Age of Hollywood
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Private Snafu: 'Spies', voiced by Blanc in 1943
In March 1937, Mel Blanc joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, which made animated cartoons distributed by Warner Bros. After sound man Treg Brown was put in charge of cartoon voices, and Carl Stalling became music director, Brown introduced Blanc to animation directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Frank Tashlin, who loved his voices. The first cartoon Blanc worked on was Picador Porky as the voice of a drunken bull. He replaced Joe Dougherty as Porky Pig's voice in Porky's Duck Hunt, which marked the debut of Daffy Duck, also voiced by Blanc.
Blanc soon became noted for voicing a wide variety of cartoon characters from Looney Tunes, adding Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Pepé Le Pew and many others.
The character of Bugs Bunny ate carrots. To follow this sound with the animated voice, Blanc would bite into a carrot and then quickly spit into aspittoon. One oft-repeated story is that Blanc was allergic to carrots. However, Blanc denies any allergy.
Throughout his career, Blanc was well aware of his talents and protected the rights to them contractually and legally. He, and later his estate, did not hesitate to take civil action when those rights were violated. Voice actors usually got no screen credits at all, but Blanc was a notable exception; by 1944, his contract stipulated a credit reading "Voice characterization(s) by Mel Blanc." Blanc asked for and received this screen credit from studio boss Leon Schlesinger when Leon objected to giving Blanc a raise in pay.
Voice work for Hanna-Barbera and others
In 1960, after the expiration of his exclusive contract with Warner Bros., Blanc continued his voice work for Warner Bros., but also did work for Hanna-Barbera, his most famous voice work wasBarney Rubble of The Flintstones (whose dopey laugh is similar to Foghorn Leghorn's booming chuckle) and Mr. Spacely of The Jetsons (similar to Yosemite Sam, but not as raucous). His other notable voice roles for Hanna-Barbara included Dino the Dinosaur, Secret Squirrel, Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman, and voices for Wally Gator and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.
Blanc also worked with Chuck Jones, who by this time was directing shorts with his own company Sib Tower 12 (later MGM Animation) doing vocal effects in the Tom and Jerry series from 1963 to 1967. Blanc was the first voice of Toucan Sam in Froot Loops commercials.
Blanc reprised some of his Warner Bros. characters when the studio contracted him to make new theatrical cartoons in the mid-to-late 1960s. For these, Blanc voiced Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales, the characters who received the most frequent use in these shorts (later, newly introduced characters such as Cool Cat and Merlin the Magic Mouse were voiced by Larry Storch). Blanc also continued to voice the Looney Tunes characters on the bridging sequences for The Bugs Bunny Show and in numerous animated advertisements.
Car accident and aftermath
On January 24, 1961, Blanc was involved in a near-fatal car accident on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Hit head-on, Blanc suffered a triple skull fracture that left him in a coma for three weeks, along with sustaining fractures to both legs and the pelvis. Blanc returned home from the UCLA Medical Center on March 17. On March 22, Blanc filed a US$500,000 lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles. His accident, one of 26 in the preceding two years at the intersection known as Dead Man's Curve, resulted in the city funding restructuring curves at the location.
Years later, Blanc revealed during his recovery, his son Noel "ghosted" several Warner Brothers cartoons' voice tracks for him. At the time of the accident Blanc was also serving as the voice of Barney Rubble in The Flintstones. His absence from the show would be relatively brief; Daws Butler provided the voice of Rubble for a few episodes, after which the show's producers set up recording equipment in Blanc's hospital room and later at his home to allow him to work from there. Some of the recordings were made while he was in full-body cast as he lay flat on his back with the other Flintstones co-stars gathered around him. He also returned to The Jack Benny Program to film the program's 1961 Christmas show, moving around via crutches and a wheelchair.
In the 1970s, Blanc did a series of college lectures across the US. He would also collaborate on a special with the Boston-based Shriners Burns Institute called Ounce of Prevention, which became a 30-minute TV special.
After spending most of two seasons voicing the robot Twiki in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Blanc's last original character, in the early 1980s wasHeathcliff, who spoke a little like Bugs Bunny. Blanc continued to voice his famous characters in commercials and TV specials for most of the decade, although he increasingly left the "yelling" characters like Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn and The Tasmanian Devil to other voice actors, as performing these were too hard on his throat. One of his last recording sessions was for a new animated theatrical version of The Jetsons.
In the early 1980s, Blanc appeared on commercials for American Express, as well as 9 Lives cat food spots featuring Sylvester, which combined live action and animation.
In 1983, comedian Rick Moranis had him voice the father of Bob and Doug MacKenzie in the film Strange Brew.
Blanc voiced most of his well known Looney Tunes characters in the 1988 live-action/animated comedy-mystery film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, saving Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn for Joe Alaskey, who voiced both characters. As Disney released the film it had to ask permission to use the Warner Bros. characters in the film. Blanc died a year after the film's release.
Mel Blanc's gravesite marker.
On May 19, 1989, Blanc was checked into the hospital by his family when they noticed he had a bad cough. While there, Blanc was diagnosed with emphysema, a lung disease, and was originally expected to recover. Blanc's health then took a turn for the worse when he complained of chest pains and heart arrythmias, followed by constant vomiting and coughing up of blood. Doctors discovered he had cardiovascular disease, a serious heart condition in which the arteries of the heart are narrowed due to plaque buildup. He died on July 10 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California at the age of 81. He was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. Blanc's will stated his desire to have the inscription on his gravestone read, "THAT'S ALL FOLKS" (the phrase was a trademark of the character Porky Pig, for whom Blanc provided the voice).
Blanc is regarded as the most prolific voice actor in the history of the industry. He was the first voice actor to get credit in the ending credits.
Blanc's death was considered a significant loss to the cartoon industry because of his skill, expressive range, and sheer volume of continuing characters he portrayed, which are currently taken up by several other voice talents. Indeed, as movie critic Leonard Maltin once pointed out, "It is astounding to realize that Tweety Bird and Yosemite Sam are the same man!"
After his death, Blanc's voice continued to be heard in newly released properties such as Woody's laugh in games such as Woody Woodpecker: Escape from Buzz Buzzard Park. In particular, a recording of his Dino the Dinosaur from the 1960s Flintstones series was used without a screen credit in the 1994 live-action theatrical film based upon the series. The credit was later added to the home release of the movie. Less problematic was the retention of older recordings of Blanc as Uncle Orville and a pet bird in the 1994 update of the Carousel of Progress attraction at Walt Disney World, despite cast changes in other roles.
Blanc trained his son Noel in the field of voice characterization. Although the younger Blanc has performed his father's characters (particularly Porky Pig) on some programs, he has chosen not to become a full-time voice artist.