Who was Mel Blanc?
Melvin Jerome Blank was an American voice actor, renowned as one of America’s greatest voice-over artists. He was also a singer and radio personality. He is best known as ‘The Man of Thousand Voices,’ as he created over 400 unique vocal sounds for radio, TV, film characters, and cartoons, and provided voice for over 3,000 cartoons. Blanc was interested in sounds and dialects since early childhood and began working on radio shows during his teenage. After the initial struggle, he became a regular cast on radio shows, such as ‘Abbott and Costello’ and ‘Burns and Allen.’ For the popular ‘The Jack Benny Show,’ he lent his voice to multiple characters. He made his mark in animation voice work and during the 6 decades of his career, he became the voice of innumerable characters, including ‘Bugs Bunny,’ ‘Porky Pig,’ ‘Daffy Duck,’ ‘Tweetie Pie,’ ‘Sylvester the Cat,’ ‘Yosemite Sam,’ ‘Pussyfoot’ and many more. He was the voice behind most of the characters of the ‘Warner Bros. Studios’ and also worked with ‘Hanna-Barbera Productions’ on their TV cartoons, ‘The Flintstones’ and ‘The Jetsons.’ He was married to Estelle Rosenbaum and has a son, Noel. Blanc died at 81 in Los Angeles.
Childhood & Early Life
Melvin Blanc was born Melvin Jerome Blank on May 30, 1908, in San Francisco, California, to Frederick and Eva Katz Blank, co-managers of a clothing business. His family was of Russian-Jewish descent. He was the younger of the 2 children. His family relocated to Portland, Oregon, during his childhood.
Blanc studied at the ‘Lincoln High School.’ With deep inclination toward voices and dialects, he began experimenting with different sounds at 10. He was interested in music and could play bass, violin, and sousaphone very well. In June 1923, at 15 years of age, he appeared on radio and sang on ‘KGW’s’ ‘Stories by Aunt Nell.’ At 16, he changed his name from ‘Blank’ to ‘Blanc’ due to some adverse comments by a teacher.
Blanc graduated in 1927 and led an 11-piece band. At 19, he was the youngest orchestra conductor in the country. He also performed in the variety entertainment Vaudeville shows.
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In 1927, at the age of 19, Blanc made his radio debut with ‘KGW’ program, ‘The Hoot Owls.’ He wrote and performed entertaining tales, sometimes using dialects. Thereafter, he went to San Francisco, and worked for his older brother Henry Blank, who was the program director for ‘KFWI Radio,’ but it closed during the 1929 depression, and Blanc returned to Oregon. For a while, he also worked in Los Angeles, but returned with wife Estelle.
In 1933, Blanc and Estelle co-hosted a radio program ‘Cobwebs and Nuts’ for ‘KEX,’ Oregon. Being a low-budget program, it didn’t have scope for new voice actors every day. So Blanc created a repertory of various characters, honing his skills.
He then went back to Los Angeles and worked as a freelancer for LA radio stations. In 1935, he joined ‘KFWB,’ a commercial radio station owned by ‘Warner Bros,’ and appeared on ‘The Johnny Murray Show.’ In 1936, he worked for ‘Joe Penner Show’ at ‘CBS Radio.’
Working on ‘The Jack Benny Program’ on ‘NBC Red Network,’ Blanc provided voice for various roles, including ‘Polly the Parrot,’ ‘Prof. LeBlanc,’ Benny’s pet polar bear ‘Carmichael,’ the ‘train announcer,’ among others. Not only did he voice for the characters, he also voiced the screeching, sputtering of Benny’s old automobile. He worked on this program till its end in 1955, and continued into its TV version, from its debut episode upto guest spots of 1970 on the ‘NBC Specials.’
By 1946, he worked in supporting roles in more than 15 radio programs and aired his own ‘The Mel Blanc Show’ on ‘CBS Radio Network’ from September 1946 to June 1947. His other well-known shows were ‘The Abbott and Costello Show,’ and ‘The Burns and Allen Show.’
After a lot of effort, Blanc was hired by ‘Leon Schlesinger Productions,’ developers of the ‘Looney Tunes’ and ‘Merrie Melodies,’ and creators of cartoon shots for ‘Warner Bros.’ His debut cartoon was ‘Picador Porky,’ in which he provided voice of a drunken bull.
Blanc’s first major character was ‘Porky Pig’ in ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt.’ He also lent his voice to ‘Daffy Duck’ in it. During his long career, Blanc voiced nearly all major characters of ‘Warner Bros. Studios,’ including the ‘Looney Tunes’ and ‘Merrie Melodies’ characters, and ‘Bugs Bunny’ was the most famous among those.
In Walt Disney’s ‘Pinocchio,’ he voiced ‘Gideon the Cat,’ but later the character was made mute and his dialogues were deleted, except a hiccup sound. Blanc performed as ‘Woody Woodpecker,’ for ‘Universal Pictures,’ but only after 3 cartoons, he was signed to an exclusive contract with ‘Warner Bros.’ (so only his laugh and signature line were used in ‘Woody’). He worked for several war-based short cartoons and voiced the character of ‘Private Snafu.’
The voice artists generally didn’t get screen credits during those days, but Blanc received it as ‘Voice Characterization by Mel Blanc.’ His exclusive contract with ‘Warner Bros.’ ended in 1960, after which he continued working with them and also worked for ‘Hanna-Barbera Productions.’ His ‘Barney Rubble’ of ‘The Flintstones’ and the ‘Cosmo Spacely’ of ‘The Jetsons’ became quite famous.
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Blanc also worked on the ‘Tom and Jerry’ series (1963 – 1967), which was directed by Chuck Jones, the previous director of ‘Looney Tunes.’
Blanc was involved in a near fatal car accident on January 24, 1961, on Sunset Boulevard. He suffered triple skull fractures, and also fractures of both legs and pelvis. He was in a coma for 2 weeks at the ‘UCLA Medical Center.’ As he was not responding, one of the attending doctors asked, ‘How are you, Bugs Bunny?’ and to everyone’s surprise Blanc did answer and then recovered slowly. Once out of coma, he began recording for the shows from hospital room and later, from home – while in full-body cast!
He founded ‘Mel Blanc Associates’ in 1962, which became ‘Blanc Communications Corporation’ in 1972. Through this, he and his son Noel created 5,000 public service announcements and commercials, and also radio and TV content for the ‘US Armed Forces Radio and TV.’ Their organization won numerous broadcasting awards.
In 1966, Blanc received the ‘French Legion of Honor.’ He has a Star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame – for Radio’ at 6385 Hollywood Boulevard. He was made the honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades, California.
Blanc also composed a few songs. His ‘I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat’ and ‘The Woody Woodpecker Song’ sold more than 2 million records each.
He holds the record for the longest characterization of animated character for voicing ‘Daffy Duck’ for 52 years, from 1937 to 1989. For the 1988 live animation film, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ he recorded for his 5 most famous characters – ‘Bugs,’ ‘Daffy,’ ‘Porky,’ ‘Tweetie’ and ‘Sylvester.’ His final recording was for ‘Jetsons: The Movie’ (1990).
Family, Personal Life & Death
Blanc married performer Estelle Zelda Rosenbaum on May 14, 1933. Their only child, son Noel, worked with Blanc in ‘Blanc Communications Corporation.’
Blanc was admitted at ‘Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,’ Los Angeles, on May 17, 1989, and was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and emphysema. He died on July 10, 1989, and was interred at ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery,’ where his epitaph reads, ‘That’s All, Folks!’