Mel Blanc

Mel Blanc

[blahn for 1, 3; blangk for 2]

Melvin "Mel" Jerome Blanc (May 30, 1908July 10, 1989) was an American voice actor and comedian. Although he began his nearly six-decade-long career performing in radio and television commercials, Blanc is best known for his work with Warner Bros. during the Golden Age of American animation (and later for Hanna-Barbera television productions) as the voice of such iconic characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Barney Rubble, Mr. Spacely, and hundreds of others. Having earned the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” Blanc is regarded as one of the most gifted and influential persons in his field.

Early years and radio work

Born Melvin Jerome Blank in San Francisco, California, to Jewish parents, he grew up in Portland, Oregon, attending Lincoln High School. At 16, he changed the spelling of his last name from “Blank,” reportedly because a teacher told him that he would amount to nothing and be, like his last name, “blank.” Blanc began his radio career in 1927 as a voice actor on the KGW program The Hoot Owls, where his ability to create voices for multiple characters first attracted attention. Blanc moved to sister station KEX in 1933 to produce and host his Cobweb And Nuts program.

Moving to Warner Brothers-owned KFWB in Hollywood, California, in 1935, Blanc joined The Johnny Murray Show; then, in 1936, he moved to CBS Radio and The Joe Penner Show. Beginning in the late 1930s, Blanc was a regular on the NBC Red Network show The Jack Benny Program in various roles, including Benny’s automobile (a Maxwell 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” 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.”

Another famous Blanc shtick on Jack’s show was the train depot announcer who inevitably intoned, sidelong, “Train leaving on Track Five for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga.” Part of the joke was the Angeleno studio audience’s awareness that no such train existed connecting those then-small towns (years before Disneyland opened). To the wider audience, the primary joke was the pregnant pause that evolved over time between "Cuc.." and "...amonga"; eventually, minutes would pass while the skit went on as the audience awaited the inevitable conclusion of the word. (At least once, a completely different skit followed before the inevitable “...amonga” finally appeared.)

Blanc’s 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 a wide range of comical support characters. Other regular characters were played by Mary Jane Croft, Joseph Kearns, Hans Conried, Alan Reed, Earle Ross, Jim Backus, Bea Benaderet and The Sportsmen Quartet, who would supply a song and sing the Colgate Tooth Powder commercials. (Blanc would later work with Reed and Benaderet on The Flintstones.)

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. The character of Sad Sack was a bumbling Army private with an even worse stutter than Porky Pig. ("I'm Lieutena-eh-Lieutena-eh-Capta-eh-Majo-eh-Colone-eh-p-p-Private Sad Sack.")

For his contribution to radio, Mel Blanc has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Boulevard.

Animation voice work during the Golden Age of Hollywood

In 1936, Mel Blanc joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, which made animated cartoons distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. 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. 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 took over 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, 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.)

In his later years, Blanc claimed that a handful of late 1930s and early 1940s Warner cartoons that each featured a rabbit clearly a precursor of Bugs Bunny all actually dealt with a single character named Happy Rabbit. No use of this name by other Termite Terrace personnel, then or later, has ever been documented, however. Happy Rabbit was noted for his laugh which became more famous as the laugh of Woody Woodpecker which Blanc was the original voice of until he won an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. which meant he couldn't do Woody's voice anymore as the Woody Woodpecker cartoons were produced by Walter Lantz Productions and distributed by Universal Pictures. Blanc later recorded "The Woody Woodpecker Song" for Capitol Records.

Though his best-known character was a carrot-chomping rabbit, munching on the carrots interrupted the dialogue. Various substitutes, such as celery, were tried, but none of them sounded like a carrot. So for the sake of expedience, he would munch and then spit the carrot bits into a spittoon rather than swallowing them, and continue with the dialogue. One oft-repeated story is that he was allergic to carrots and had to spit them out to minimize any allergic reaction; but his autobiography makes no such claim; in fact, in a 1984 interview with Tim Lawson, co-author of The Magic Behind The Voices: A Who's Who of Cartoon Voice Actors (University Press of Mississippi, 2004), Blanc emphatically denied being allergic to carrots.

Blanc said his most challenging job was voicing Yosemite Sam; it was rough on the throat because of Sam’s sheer volume. (Foghorn Leghorn's voice was similarly raucous.) Late in life, he reprised several of his classic voices for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but deferred to Joe Alaskey to do Yosemite Sam's and Foghorn Leghorn's voices.

Blanc's long association with the Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons was in contrast with the primarily television-oriented careers of such voice actors as Daws Butler and Don Messick. Although Butler and Messick both had voice roles in MGM theatrical cartoons (Butler as the southern-talking wolf who always whistled and Messick at times as "Droopy"), the two made far fewer theatrical shorts than Blanc. A closer parallel to Blanc's career can be found in that of Paul Frees, who did substantial voice work for films as well as television.

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 by Mel Blanc." Blanc asked for and received this screen credit from studio boss Leon Schlesinger when he objected to a pay raise. Other frequent Warner voice artists, such as Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd) and Bea Benaderet (many female voices), remained uncredited on-screen. Blanc's screen credit was noticed by radio show producers, who gave him more radio work as a result.

Benny/Bugs crossover

The Warner cartoons were filled with references to the popular media of film and radio, including references to The Jack Benny Program, whose various gags frequently found their way into Warner scripts voiced by Blanc. For example:

  • Bugs was known for repeating Benny's catchphrase, "Now cut that out!"
  • The "Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc...amonga" joke was once used by Daffy Duck in the cartoon Daffy Duck Slept Here.
  • Frank Nelson's "Yeeeeees?" would be invoked by minor characters from time to time.
  • Blanc's imitations of sputtering cars, squawking parrots, whinnying horses, etc., would be invoked frequently in both series.
  • Blanc used his various Mexican stereotypes frequently in both series.
  • On the March 23, 1954 episode of Benny's radio program, Benny encounters Bugs Bunny in a dream.

The ultimate clash of the mythos occurred with the 1959 release of the Warner Bros. cartoon The Mouse That Jack Built. Directed by Robert McKimson, the cartoon features the cast of the Benny radio and TV program drawn as mice. Blanc was credited as the voice of the Maxwell, and besides Benny, co-stars Mary Livingstone, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, and Don Wilson all reprised their Benny show roles.

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 fractures of both legs and the pelvis.

The accident prompted over 15,000 get-well cards from anxious fans, including some addressed only to "Bugs Bunny, Hollywood, USA", according to Blanc's autobiography. One newspaper falsely reported that he had died. After his recovery, Blanc reported in TV interviews, and later in his autobiography, that a clever doctor had helped him to come out of his coma by talking to him as Bugs Bunny, after futile efforts to talk directly to Blanc. Although he had no actual recollection of this, Blanc's wife and son swore to him that when the doctor was inspired to ask him, "How are you today, Bugs Bunny?", Blanc answered in Bugs' voice. Blanc thus credited Bugs with saving his life.

Blanc returned home from the UCLA Medical Center on March 17 to the cheers of more than 150 friends and neighbors. On March 22, he 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, resulted in the city quickly providing money to restructure curves at the dangerous corner.

Years later, Blanc revealed that during his recovery, his son Noel "ghosted" several Warner Brothers cartoons' voice tracks for him. At the time of the accident, Blanc also served as the voice of Barney Rubble on ABC's 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 house to allow him to work from his residence. He also returned to The Jack Benny Program to film the program's 1961 Christmas show, moving around via crutches and/or a wheelchair.

Voice work for Hanna-Barbera and others

In the early 1960s, after the expiration of his exclusive contract with Warner Brothers, Blanc went to Hanna-Barbera and continued to voice various characters, his most famous being Barney Rubble from The Flintstones (whose dopey laugh is similar to Foghorn Leghorn's booming chuckle) and Mr. Spacely from The Jetsons (similar to Yosemite Sam, but not as raucous). Daws Butler and Don Messick were Hanna-Barbera's top voice men, while Blanc was the newcomer, but with all of the 1930s and 1940s Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons appearing on Saturday morning TV to compete with the made-for-TV Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Blanc was again deemed relevant.

Blanc did these voices, plus others for such ensemble cartoons as Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop for Hanna-Barbera. Blanc shared the spotlight with his two professional rivals and personal friends, Butler and Messick: In a short called Lippy the Lion, Butler was Lippy, while Blanc was his hyena sidekick, Hardy Har-Har. In the short Ricochet Rabbit, Messick was the voice of the gunslinging rabbit, while Blanc was his sidekick, Deputy Droop-a-Long Coyote.

In addition, Blanc was the first person to play Toucan Sam in Froot Loops commercials, using a slightly cartoonish version of his natural voice. (The ad agency later decided to give Sam an upper-crust English accent and replaced Blanc with Paul Frees.)

Blanc reprised some of his Warner Brothers characters when the studio contracted to make first-run cartoon shorts for TV in the late 1960s. For these, Blanc primarily voiced Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales or Tweety and Sylvester, since he was forbidden by Hanna-Barbera to voice Bugs Bunny.

Later career and death

Contrary to popular belief, Blanc was not one of hundreds of individuals that George Lucas auditioned to provide the voice for the character of C-3PO for his 1977 film Star Wars. That distinction instead fell to fellow voice actor Stan Freberg, and it was Freberg who ultimately suggested that the producers use mime actor Anthony Daniels' own voice in the role.

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, was Heathcliff, who spoke a little like Bugs Bunny but with a more street-tough demeanor. 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 and voice by the time of his old age in the 1980s. One of his last recording sessions was for a new animated theatrical version of The Jetsons.

Blanc's death from cardiovascular disease 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; no one individual can currently match the vocal range Blanc was able to establish. Indeed, as movie critic Leonard Maltin once pointed out, "It is astounding to realize that Tweety Bird and Yosemite Sam are the same man!"

That range was partially aided by recording technology; for instance, Blanc's standard Daffy Duck voice is essentially his Sylvester voice played a few percent faster than it was recorded to give it a higher pitch, as well as pronouncing "s" with a "th" sound. Blanc would later develop the skill to reproduce such "sped-up" voices himself live as necessary. Other Blanc character voices that were given this special treatment included Porky Pig, Henery Hawk, and Speedy Gonzales.

After his death, Blanc's voice continued to be heard in newly released properties. In particular, a recording of his Dino the dinosaur bark from the 1960s Flintstones series was used without a screen credit in the 1994 live-action theatrical film based upon the series. This resulted in legal action against the film studio by the Blanc estate, which claimed his recordings were used without permission or proper credit. 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's distinctive voice can still be heard in the Audio-Animatronic presentation.

Blanc died on July 10, 1989 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California of heart disease and emphysema. 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," considered by some to be one of the most famous epitaphs in the world.

Blanc trained his son, Noel Blanc, in the field of voice characterization. While 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. Noel appeared in the booth for the 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 NASCAR Race featuring the Looney Tunes in themed paint schemes for Chevrolet drivers and did Mel's voice of Bugs Bunny.

Animation records

Mel Blanc holds a few very important records in the field of animation (none of which are currently recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records), the most famous being, of course, the "1000 Voices" he was said to have performed. Not as notable are two records of longevity: his original characterization of Daffy Duck (for over 52 years) is the longest time any animated character has been performed by his or her original voice contributor. He also voiced Porky Pig for almost the exact same amount of time as Daffy — since the same cartoon (Porky's Duck Hunt) through to his death, though Porky was not originally voiced by Blanc. Blanc was also the original voice of almost every character he voiced, leaving him as the clear runaway for the record of "Most Characters Originally Voiced By One Actor," and he almost certainly provided voices in more cartoons than any other voice actor. And to top that off, he is runner-up to his own roughly 52.2-year record of his original characterization of Daffy, by voicing Bugs Bunny for almost 49 years to the date of his debut (July 27, 1940).

List of cartoon characters

When asked about voicing any of his numerous characters, Mel Blanc stated that he merely managed the characters. At first, he said those things so the kids would still watch the show, fearing they would not if they knew they were not real. That set a standard most actors have followed. The year that Blanc first played the character is noted in parentheses.

  1. Porky Pig (1936-1989, assumed from Joe Dougherty)
  2. The Maxwell (Jack Benny's car)
  3. Daffy Duck (1937-1989)
  4. Bugs Bunny's prototype (1938-1940)
  5. Bugs Bunny (1940-1989)
  6. Woody Woodpecker (1940)
  7. Cecil Turtle (1941-1947)
  8. Tweety Bird (1942-1989)
  9. Private Snafu, numerous World War II related cartoons (1943)
  10. Yosemite Sam (1945-1989) ("Hare Trigger")
  11. Pepé Le Pew (1945-1989)
  12. Sylvester (1945-1989) aka Thomas (1947) in some films
  13. Foghorn Leghorn (1946)
  14. The Barnyard Dawg (1946-1989)
  15. Henery Hawk (1946-1989)
  16. Charlie Dog (1947)
  17. Mac (of Mac & Tosh) (1947)
  18. K-9 (1948) (sidekick to Marvin the Martian)
  19. Marvin the Martian (1948-1989)
  20. Beaky Buzzard (1950)
  21. Elmer Fudd (1950, 1958, 1970s and 1980s, replacing Arthur Q. Bryan)
  22. Bruno the Bear (1951)
  23. Wile E. Coyote (silent until 1952, first spoke in the short "Operation: Rabbit")
  24. Speedy Gonzales (1953)
  25. The Tasmanian Devil (1954-1960) aka Taz
  26. Barney Rubble (1960-1989)
  27. Dino (1960-1989) (Fred Flintstone's pet.)
  28. Cosmo G. Spacely (1962)
  29. Hardy Har Har (1962-1964)
  30. Secret Squirrel (1965-1966)
  31. Frito Bandito (1967-1971)
  32. Bubba McCoy from "Where's Huddles?"
  33. Chugga-Boom/The Bully Brothers also from "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop"
  34. Speed Buggy (1973)
  35. Tucker the Mouse from "The Cricket in Times Square" (1973) and two sequels
  36. Captain Caveman (1977)
  37. Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)
  38. Heathcliff (1980, appeared in syndication from 1984-1987)
  39. Gideon the Cat from Pinocchio
  40. Bertie Mouse (of Hubie and Bertie)
  41. Marc Antony
  42. Moo the Cow in Berkeley Farms Radio Ads. "Farms in Berkeley....Moooo"

Besides these, Blanc also voiced many minor and one time characters.

List of noteworthy radio characters

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

Besides voicing characters on his own radio show (which ran from 1946-47) Blanc was a regular on such comedy classics as the Jack Benny Show, Burns & Allen, and Abbott & Costello, providing both voices and sound effects ranging from people to animals to backfiring cars.

  1. The Happy Postman (Burns & Allen)
  2. Professor LeBlanc (Jack Benny)
  3. Mr. Technicolovich (Abbott & Costello)

Other credits

  • Mel Blanc was hired to perform the voice of Gideon the Cat in Walt Disney's Pinocchio. However, it was eventually decided for Gideon to be mute (just like Dopey, whose whimsical, Harpo Marx-style persona made him one of Snow White's most comic and popular characters), and all of Blanc's recorded dialogue in this film had been deleted, save for one military hiccup, which was heard three times in the film. This and Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the only known work he ever did for Disney animation. He was, however, heard on occasional radio projects featuring Disney characters, such as The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air.
  • In 1949 Mel appeared in the film Neptune's Daughter with Esther Williams, Red Skelton and Ricardo Montalban.
  • Blanc was one of three regular panelists in the 1955 game show Musical Chairs. Occasionally, he was asked to sing in the style of a popular singer.
  • Blanc once called into the game show Press Your Luck during the end credits when host Peter Tomarken mistakenly gave the answer to the question "Which cartoon character uses the phrase 'sufferin' succotash'?" as Daffy Duck. Blanc informed him that the correct answer was Sylvester. (In reality, both characters have used the phrase, although it is most commonly associated with Sylvester.) Blanc spoke to Tomarken in Sylvester's voice to explain the error, as well in the voices of Speedy Gonzales and Porky Pig. Tomarken apologized for the error and promised that all three contestants would be allowed to return to play the game again.
  • Blanc was the voice of Bob and Doug McKenzie's father in the movie Strange Brew.
  • In 1971, he appeared as himself in one of the American Express "Do you know me?" credit card TV commercials. The ad campaign centered on famous people whose faces were nonetheless usually not recognized by the public.
  • Blanc appeared in a public service announcement for the Shriners Burns Institute on the dangers of burns on children.
  • He also provided the voice of Quintro the Puppet in Snow White and the Three Stooges.
  • Blanc did virtually all of his famous Looney Tunes characters' voices in NFL Films' The Son of Football Follies
  • In addition to hundreds of credited vocal roles, Blanc also provided many brief incidental voices and vocal effects for TV sitcoms, almost never receiving screen credit. Two noted examples were regularly providing the voice of the raven in The Munsters' cuckoo clock, and voicing a parrot (who even spoke in the courtroom) in the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Perjured Parrot."
  • In his autobiography, That's Not All, Folks!, Blanc confessed to a minor bit of deception regarding his nickname, "The Man of a Thousand Voices," stating that by his estimate, he had provided only 850 voices.
  • Blanc performed his Speedy Gonzales character in Pat Boone's 1962 hit record of "Speedy Gonzales."
  • Blanc also made many records for Capitol Records, including his Warner Brothers characters and such other characters as Woody Woodpecker, with his most famous Capitol album being "Party Panic." He also performed on records with other artists including "Spike Jones and His City Slickers" and "The Sportsmen."
  • During 1977-1978, Mel was an active CB Radio operator. He often used the CB handles Bugs or Daffy and talked over the air in the Los Angeles area using his many voices. He appeared in an interview with clips of him having fun talking to children on his home CB radio station in the NBC Knowledge Series television episode about CB radio in 1978.

Homages and tributes

  • In the Porky Pig short Curtain Razor, Mel Blanc appears as a turtle doing only 999 voices out of a claimed one thousand (he actually does only about 7 distinct voices here, which were edited into a rapid-fire montage of short sound bites, thus giving the impression of more voices). The clip was shown by Turner Network Television out of context as a tribute when Blanc died.
  • In the Frasier episode 'HAM Radio', a voice actor of many voices is named Mel White, an homage to Mel Blanc. In French, blanc, the way the famous voice actor preferred to spell his surname, means white.
  • In the 1944 Warner's cartoon Russian Rhapsody (directed by Bob Clampett), Blanc appears as one of the gremlins (the one sawing around Henry Binder's hair) who are sabotaging Adolf Hitler's plane. The other gremlins are other members of the Warners' staff, including Binder, Leon Schlesinger, and Friz Freleng.
  • A well-known lithograph was made in his honor. It shows Looney Tunes characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Pepé Le Pew, Sylvester, Tweety Bird, and Speedy Gonzales with their heads bowed in reverence, standing around a lone microphone with a spotlight shining on it. The simple inscription on the print reads: "Speechless." According to Warner Bros., it is the highest selling piece of animation art ever produced. The picture was also made into an animated picture, with sound and changing scenes, and sold in the now-defunct Warner Brothers chain of retail stores.
  • In the The Office episode "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," boss Michael Scott acts out Blanc's "Cucamonga" bit, even including a pause.

Listen to




  • That's Not All, Folks!, 1988 by Mel Blanc, Philip Bashe. Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-39089-5 (Softcover), ISBN 0-446-51244-3 (Hardcover)
  • Terrace, Vincent. Radio Programs, 1924-1984. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999. ISBN 0-7864-0351-9

External links

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