Melvin "Mel" Jerome Blanc (May 30, 1908 – July 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.
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...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.”
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.")
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Besides these, Blanc also voiced many minor and one time characters.
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.