Mel Blanc was born May 30, 1908 and passed away July 10th, 1989. Certainly he is one of the most prominent voice artists of all time and the first to receive an on-screen credit for his work.
While perhaps best known for his work on the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, he also originated the voice and laugh for Woody Woodpecker, voiced Barney Rubble for The Flintstones, Heathcliff the cat and so many others over a decades long career. The voices he created are still instantly recognizable.
Blanc also frequently performed on the radio programs of famous comedians especially Jack Benny where he was responsible for many memorable moments like the train conductor proclaiming, “Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc-a-monga” as well as Benny’s exasperated violin teacher Prof. LeBlanc, and Cy from Tijuana, who answered most questions with “Si.”
Shortly before his death, the executives of Time-Warner (owners of Warner Bros.) asked Blanc 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.
Epitaph on headstone at his burial site in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood reads, “That’s All Folks! Mel Blanc. Man Of 1000 Voices. Beloved Husband And Father 1908-1989.”
Blanc kept busy during his later years with his favorite hobby, collecting antique watches. His voluminous collection, insured for over $200,000 contained items dating to 1510.
Perhaps the last public interview with voice artist Mel Blanc took place in January 1989 at the Third Los Angeles International Animation Celebration. He was interviewed on stage by the talented Will Ryan and I was lucky enough to be in the audience.
Here are a few excerpts and gives you a taste of how Blanc told stories:
Blanc: I tried to get into Warner Bros. cartoons. Even though I did many different dialects and voices when I tried to get in, I went to this one man who was in charge of hiring voices. I said, “Will you listen to me and what I can do?”
He said, “I’m sorry, we have all the voices we need.”
Well, I was a stubborn as he was and I went back in two weeks and said, “Won’t you just listen to me? I do dialects and voices.” He said, “I’m sorry we have all the voices we need.” I was still as stubborn as he was. I went back every two weeks for a year and a half. He still wouldn’t see me.
Finally this guy died! I went to Treg Brown, he was next in charge. I told him that I’d been trying for a year and half to get an audition here and he always told me that he had all the voices he needed, didn’t want anyone else. He said, “You shouldn’t have paid attention to him. He didn’t know what in the hell he was doing.”
I said, “NOW you tell me! Who’s in charge of voices?” He said, “I am.” So Treg actually gave me my start in the cartoon business. And perhaps you’ve heard of Frank Tashlin? He’s one of the top directors. He said, “I’ve got a picture coming up with a drunken bull. Do you think you can do a voice of a drunken bull? I looked around and said, “I think I can do that.”
He said, “What would he sound like?” (Blanc does voice imitation.) I think he would sound a little (hic) loaded with sour mash (hic). He said, “Meet me at the studio next Tuesday.” So that’s how I got started, with a drunken bull. (Korkis note: It was Picador Porky (1937).)
I got the Woody Woodpecker voice from a high school I went to in Portland, Oregon. We had a hall that had a terrific echo. I thought I’d see what it would do with a laugh. So I did this laugh. (Blanc does Woody laugh.)
I ran down the hall and ran right into the principal. He said, “What are you doing, running and laughing like crazy?” I said, “I just wanted to hear my echo.”
He said, “Don’t do that again or I’m going to take you out of school.” Little did he know that would later be Woody Woodpecker’s laugh. But I’m glad he didn’t kick me out of school. The kids would all laugh at my stories; the teachers would all laugh; and then give me lousy marks.
The Roadrunner did not speak, and the coyote that chased him had only spoken about twice in all the pictures they had made. I had to give a voice to this Wile E. Coyote. So I thought, why not make him an English actor (Blanc does voice).
And they used a horn, actually a klaxon, to do the voice of the Roadrunner. One day they couldn’t find the horn. Chuck Jones came to me. He said, “Do you think you can do the voice of a horn?”
I said, “Sure.” He said, “Let me hear it.” I did “Beep beep”. He said, “Great. We’ll get you when we can’t find the horn.” So I actually became the sound of the horn, too.
Jack Benny was not only my boss, he was one of my best friends. I gotta tell you a short story about his being so cheap. That’s what he lived on, the sense that he was a cheapskate.
One day, he said, “Mel, let’s go get a cup of coffee.” I said, “Fine.” Coffee was only ten cents then. He got the bill. The bill was only twenty cents. He laid down a dollar and said, “Let’s go, Mel.” I said, “Jack, aren’t you going to wait for your change? You got eighty cents coming.” He said, “Oh no, no one’s going to call me a cheapskate. That’s a tip for that girl.
On the show, he had a Maxwell 1927. It was an automobile for those of you who can’t remember. And the sound effects men would play the sound of a motor on a phonograph record, then they’d hold their finger on it to slow it down and make it stop.
Then one day they came to the cue and the sound man didn’t have the electricity plugged in. I ran up to the mike and did this (Blanc makes coughing and sputtering sounds.). Jack Benny said, “You’re now my Maxwell!”
I think Bugs Bunny has always been my favorite character. He was a tough little stinker. I thought, “Should I give him a voice from Brooklyn or from the Bronx?” I put them together and that’s Bugs Bunny. In other words, he’s more or less of the suppressed desire of what men would like to do that don’t have guts enough to do.