Watching lots of cartoons, as I tend to do, I’m a big fan of the people behind the toons. One of the geniuses of the tiny screen is an amazing man that had an amazing ability. Today’s GotD is the man of a thousand voices; Mel Blanc. He voiced many Looney Tunes characters you grew up with, so while you may not know the face, you definitely know the voice(s). This is what IMDB.com had to say about him:
Born Melvin Blank in 1908, Mel Blanc was a voice specialist from radio, movies and TV rarely seen by his widespread audience. On 1940s radio, for example, his voice supplied the sound effects for the comedian Jack Benny‘s antique “Maxwell” automobile’s gasping and wheezing and struggling to crank up. More widely recognized as the voice of virtually every major character in the Warner Bros. cartoon pantheon including: Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety & Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, etc. Since Blanc’s death, his son Noel Blanc has taken up some of his father’s mantle.
1/24/61: Was in a near-fatal car accident while many of the shows that required his services, most importantly “The Flintstones” (1960), were still in production. He did the voices of his characters in both his home bed and his hospital bed, in a full body cast and with all his “Flintstones” co-stars and recording equipment crowded into the same room.
Originally, the sound of the Maxwell car on Jack Benny’s radio show was a pre-recorded sound effect on a phonograph record. During a live broadcast, however, Blanc noticed that the record player wasn’t turned on for the crucial moment when the effect was supposed to play. He quickly grabbed the microphone and improvised the sounds himself, to the utter delight of the studio audience. Benny made it part of the program from then on and gave Blanc much larger parts to play in the show.
Shortly before his death, executives of Time Warner (owners of Warner Bros.) asked him if there was anything, literally anything, that they could give him to thank him for his life’s body of work. He asked for– and received–a Ford Edsel.
While in a coma after a cataclysmic automobile accident, doctors unsuccessfully tried to get Mel to talk. Finally, a doctor, who was also a fan of his cartoon characters, asked Mel, “Bugs? Bugs Bunny? Are you there?” Mel responded, in Bugs Bunny’s voice, “What’s up, Doc?” After talking with several other characters, they eventually led Mel out of his coma.
He appeared in a television commercial for the American Express charge card, where he performed several character voices in quick succession. After his death, American Express began running the commercial again, showing his name with birth and death years on the bottom of the screen at the end of the commercial, both to promote their card, and pay tribute to the vocal genius.
Originally, voice artists were not given screen credit on animated cartoons. After he was turned down for a raise by tight-fisted producer Leon Schlesinger, Blanc suggested they add his name as Vocal Characterizationist to the credits as a compromise and omitted the name of any other voice actor that worked on the cartoon. Not only did it give greater recognition to voice artists from then on, it helped to bring Blanc to the public eye and quickly brought him more work in radio.
Epitaph on headstone at his burial site in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood reads, “That’s All, Folks!”.
Blanc legally changed his last name from Blank to Blanc because of a nasty school teacher who used to make fun of it.
Sylvester the Cat was modeled after Blanc’s character Sylvester on CBS Radio’s “The Judy Canova Show” during the early 1940s.
During World War II, he provided the voice of Pvt. Snafu in training films for the soldiers. Interestingly enough, some of these training films were written by Theodor S. Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.
Created the voice of Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker, whose laugh was a version of a laugh Blanc had been performing since high school. He only performed the voice in the first four Woody cartoons: Knock Knock (1940); Woody Woodpecker (1941); and The Screwdriver (1941), and Pantry Panic (1941), after which Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies producer Leon Schlesinger signed him to an exclusive contract. Lantz used Ben Hardaway to record Woody’s dialogue for subsequent cartoons until 1950, but since no one could properly imitate Blanc’s laugh at the time, a sound clip from Woody Woodpecker (1941) was edited into these later cartoons’ soundtracks. In 1948, Blanc sued Lantz for using his voice in subsequent cartoons without compensation and settled with him out-of-court. However, Blanc saying “Guess who?” can be heard at the beginning of every Woody Woodpecker short.
Many of the voices he did for Looney Tunes were sped up after being recorded. Examples are Tweety, Speedy Gonzales, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck. Porky’s voice sounds a little like Bugs’ voice before being sped, and Daffy’s voice is Sylvester’s voice sans the slobbering.
1925: Was initiated into DeMolay at the Sunnyside Chapter in Portland, OR.
1966: Received the French Legion of Honor.
1987: Inducted into the DeMolay Hall of Fame.
1986: He was selected by a national survey of young people as one of the five individuals they would most like to meet.
1961: He was the voice of Speedy Gonzalez in the hit record of the same name by Pat Boone. Blanc actually ad-libbed most of his dialogue, since the record was Boone’s version of a song recorded by another artist earlier that year, in which the character had very little dialogue.
More fun Facts:
Played boarder Tiffany Twiggs in the radio series “Major Hoople,” which debuted on NBC’s Blue Network on June 22, 1942. Based on Gene Ahern’s comic strip “Our Boarding House,” the radio series starred Arthur Q. Bryan as Major Hoople and Patsy Moran as the Major’s wife, Martha Hoople, who ran the boarding house (Bryan would later become the voice of Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny’s nemesis). The 30-minute program, which aired on Mondays at 7 pm, went off the air on April 26, 1943.
Mel was such a consummate method actor that it was said that when he was in a sound booth doing a character, one could tell exactly which character he was doing without hearing his lines.
Personal Quotes by Blanc:
Today was tomorrow yesterday, so don’t inhale.
I have been a member of DeMolay for 63 years. I thank God and DeMolay for helping me become kind and thoughtful to my parents and all my friends. I had many opportunities to do the wrong things, and I might have done them if it were not for DeMolay. God bless them.
When I was 17 I was doing Summer Stock as a crew member. One night we went to one of the actor’s home for a nice dinner and an overnight. Beautiful house. The first piece of artwork I saw drew me in from across the room. I walked right towards it. The piece was titled Speechless. I stood in front of it and stared at it for about 5 minutes. It seems as I stood there I had been crying. The owner of the house came over and put a hand on my shoulder. He asked if I knew who Mel Blanc was. I nodded my head. He ruffled my hair and walked away. I stared at that artwork for a good 5 more minutes, said a brief prayer and thanks to the man and then walked away. It was a somber evening for me. To this day I still hear his voice every morning when my son watches old Looney Tunes, or in the afternoons when we watch the new Looney Tunes. The man may have passed on, but he left his voice to carry on. Thank you, Mr. Blanc. Here is a great video of a Letterman interview where you can see Blanc do some of his voices and hear his natural voice.