Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mel Blanc

Today, we remember Mel Blanc.  For nearly six decades Mel worked in radio, tv, and voice acting. 

(May 30, 1908 – July 10, 1989)

"Blanc was born Melvin Jerome Blank in San Francisco, California, to Jewish parents Frederick and Eva Blank. The youngest of two children, he grew up in the neighborhood of Western Addition in San Francisco, and later in Portland, Oregon, attending Lincoln High School. Growing up, he had a fondness for voices and dialect, which he started to do as early as the age of 10.

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.

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).

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.

At times, sharp-eyed audience members (and later, TV viewers) could see Benny struggling to keep a straight face; Blanc's absolute dead-pan delivery was a formidable challenge for him. Benny's daughter, Joan, recalls that Mel Blanc was one of her father's closest friends in real life, because "nobody else on the show could make him laugh the way Mel could."


"In March 1937, Mel Blanc joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, which made animated cartoons distributed by Warner Bros. Blanc liked to tell the story about how he got turned down at the Schlesinger studio by music director Norman Spencer, who was in charge of cartoon voices, saying that they had all the voices they needed, as he went to him once every two weeks for two years straight. Then Spencer died, and sound man Treg Brown took charge of cartoon voices, while Carl Stalling took over as 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. His natural voice was that of Sylvester the Cat, but without the lispy spray. (Blanc's voice can be heard in an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies that also featured frequent Blanc vocal foil Bea Benaderet; in his small appearance, Blanc plays a vexed cab-driver.)"


His Death
As part of Bugs Bunny's 50th anniversary, Mel Blanc had filmed an Oldsmobile commercial with his son, Noel Blanc. At the end of shooting, Noel noticed that his dad had a heavy cough. They drove to the doctor, who said that Mel could either stay in the hospital overnight, "just to be safe", or that they could take an inhaler home. Mel Blanc chose the former, and while at the hospital, due to the fact that someone had forgot to put bed rails on his hospital bed, he fell out of bed and broke his femur, which released fat emboli into his brain, causing a stroke. He died within 48 hours on July 10, 1989 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

"There are only five real people in Hollywood. Everybody else is Mel Blanc." ~Jack Benny

Mel Blanc once estimated that he supplied more than 400 different voices in approximately 3,000 cartoons.  Here is a just a partial list:

Selected list of cartoon characters

Porky Pig (1936–1989, assumed from Joe Dougherty)
 The Maxwell (Jack Benny's car in "The Mouse that Jack Built")
 Daffy Duck (1937–1989)
 Bugs Bunny-like rabbit/Happy Rabbit (1938–1940)
 Papa Panda from the Andy Panda series
 Bugs Bunny (1940–1989)
 Woody Woodpecker (1940–1941)
 Slapsie Maxie Rosenbull (1940)
 Hiawatha (1941)
 Cecil Turtle (1941–1947)
 Tweety Bird (1942–1989)
 Private Snafu, numerous World War II related cartoons (1943)
 Yosemite Sam (1945–1987)
 Pepé Le Pew (1945–1989)
 Penelope Pussycat Though typically a non-speaker, her "meows" and "purrs" were most often provided by Mel Blanc using a feminine voice.
 Sylvester (1945–1989) aka Thomas (1947) in some films.
 Foghorn Leghorn (1946–1987)
 The Barnyard Dawg (1946–1989)
 Henery Hawk (1946–1989)
 Charlie Dog (1947)
 Grover Groundhog (1947, singing voice only in "One Meat Brawl")
 Mac (of Mac & Tosh) (1947)
 K-9 (1948) (sidekick to Marvin the Martian)
 Marvin the Martian (1948–1989)
 Sylvester J. Pussycat, Jr. Mel also plays Sylvester's son Sylvester Junior when the young cat was introduced (1949)
 Beaky Buzzard (1950)
 Curt Martin (1950-1 episode Hillbilly Hare)
 The Fox and Crow (voiced both characters only for the 1941 debut short "Fox and Grapes" until Frank Grahmn took the roles of the fox and crow then Paul Frees became the crow while Grahmn was still the fox till the last short in 1950)
 Elmer Fudd 1940 and 1989.
 Wile E. Coyote (silent until 1952, first spoke in the short "Operation: Rabbit")
 Speedy Gonzales (1953–1989)
 Rocky and Mugsy (Bugs and Thugs 1954)
 The Tasmanian Devil (1954–1989) aka Taz
 Ed (Jack Benny's underground valet guard in "The Mouse that Jack Built", since Joseph Kearns was unavailable to reprise his role as Ed the Vault Guard in that cartoon)
 Blacque Jacque Shellacque (1959–1962)
 Barney Rubble (1960–1989)
 Dino (1960–1989) (Fred Flintstone's pet.)
 Cosmo G. Spacely (The Jetsons, 1962–1989)
 Hardy Har Har (1962–1964)
 Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse (1963–1967)
 Sneezly Seal (1964–1967)
 Secret Squirrel (1965–1966)
 Frito Bandito (1967–1971)
 Bubba McCoy from "Where's Huddles?"
 Chugga-Boom/Yak Yak/The Bully Brothers also from "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop"
 Speed Buggy (1973)
 Tucker the Mouse from "The Cricket in Times Square" (1973) and two sequels
 Captain Caveman (1977)
 Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979–1981)
 Heathcliff (1980, appeared in syndication from 1984–1988)
 Scientist from SuperTed and the stolen rocket (1982)
 Gideon from Pinocchio (hiccups)
 Bertie Mouse (of Hubie and Bertie)
 Marc Antony
 Moo the Cow in Berkeley Farms Radio Ads. "Farms in Berkeley....Moooo"
 Officer Short Shrift, several Lethargians, three out of five of the royal palace guards, The Word Speller, The Dodecahedron, and The Demon of Insincerity from The Phantom Tollbooth (1969)
 Go Go Gomez, Flat Top, B.B. Eyes, additional voices from The Dick Tracy Show
 Tycoon Magoo
 Worcestershire (Tycoon Magoo's butler)

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