Melvin Jerome “Mel” Blank was born May 30, 1908 in San Francisco.
The youngest of two children Mel and his family moved to Portalnd, Oregon just before he started high school.
Growing up, he had a penchant for creating and mimicking voices.
At the age of 16, Mel changed the spelling of his last name from Blank to Blanc, because a teacher told him that he would amount to “nothing” with the last name of “Blank.”
Mel soon joined The Order of DeMolay and would eventually be inducted into its Hall of Fame.
He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and split his time between leading an orchestra, becoming the youngest conductor in the country at the age of 17, and performing shtick in vaudeville shows around Washington, Oregon, and northern California.
In 1927, Mel began his radio career as a voice actor on the KGW program The Hoot Owls, where his ability to provide voices for multiple characters first attracted attention.
Then he moved to Los Angeles in 1932, where he met Estelle Rosenbaum, whom he married a year later, before returning to Portland.
Soon Mel changed stations, moving to KEX to produce and co-host his Cobweb And Nuts show with his wife Estelle, which debuted on June 15, 1933.
Their program played Monday through Saturday from 11:00 pm to midnight, and by the time the show ended two years later, it aired from 10:30 pm to 11:00 pm.
With his wife’s encouragement, Mel moved his family back 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. Mel Blanc became a regular on the NBC Red Network show The Jack Benny Program playing 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.
Mel’s Maxwell auto voice came from a mishap when the recording of an automobile’s sound failed to play on cue, prompting Mel to take the microphone and improvise the sounds himself. The audience reacted so positively that Jack Benny decided to dispense with the recording altogether and have Mel continue in that role.
One of Mel’s most memorable characters from Jack Benny’s radio show (and later TV show) 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 Mel Blanc and Jack Benny.
Animation voice work
Then in March 1937, Mel Blanc joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, which made animated cartoons distributed by Warner Bros. The first cartoon Mel Blanc worked on was Picador Porky as the voice of a drunken bull.
Soon Mel had replaced Joe Dougherty as Porky Pig’s voice in Porky’s Duck Hunt, which marked the debut of Daffy Duck, also voiced by Mel Blanc.
Mel 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.
The character of Bugs Bunny ate carrots. To follow this sound with the animated voice, Blanc would bite into a carrot and then quickly spit into a spittoon.
During World War II, Mel appeared as Private Sad Sack on various radio shows, most notably G.I. Journal.
By 1946, Mel Blanc had already appeared on over 15 radio programs in supporting roles.
His success on The Jack Benny Program led to his own radio show on CBS Radio, The Mel Blanc Show, which ran from September 3, 1946, to June 24, 1947.
Mel played himself as the hapless owner of a fix-it shop, as well as his young cousin Zookie.
Mel 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.
Mel Blanc also recorded a song titled “Big Bear Lake.”
Throughout his career, Mel was well aware of his talents and protected his rights to them contractually and legally. Voice actors usually got no screen credits at all, but Mel Blanc became a notable exception; by 1944, his contract stipulated a credit reading “Voice characterization(s) by Mel Blanc.”
Voice work for Hanna-Barbera and others
In 1960, after the expiration of his exclusive contract with Warner Brothers, Mel continued his voice work for Warner Bros., but also began to record work for Hanna-Barbera, his most famous voice work was Barney Rubble of The Flintstones (whose dopey laugh is similar to Foghorn Leghorn’s booming chuckle) and Mr. Spacely of The Jetsons (similar to Yosemite Sam, but not as raucous).
His other notable voice roles for Hanna-Barbara included Dino the Dinosaur, Secret Squirrel, Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman, and voices for Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.
Mel also worked with Chuck Jones, who by this time was directing shorts with his own company Sib Tower 12 (later MGM Animation) doing vocal effects in the Tom and Jerry series from 1963 to 1967.
Mel Blanc was the first voice of Toucan Sam in early Froot Loops commercials.
Then Mel Blanc reprised some of his Warner Bros. characters when the studio contracted him to make new theatrical cartoons in the mid-to-late 1960s.
For these, Mel voiced Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales.
Mel also continued to voice Looney Tunes characters on the bridging sequences for The Bugs Bunny Show and in numerous animated advertisements.
Car accident and aftermath
On January 24, 1961, Mel Blanc was involved in a near-fatal car accident on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Hit head-on, he suffered a triple skull fracture that left him in a coma for three weeks, along with sustaining fractures to both legs and the pelvis.
Mel returned home from the UCLA Medical Center on March 17.
On March 22, 1961 Mel Blanc filed a $500,000 lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles.
His accident, one of 26 in the preceding two years at the intersection known as Dead Man’s Curve, resulted in the city restructuring curves at the location.
Years later, Mel revealed that during his recovery, his son Noel “ghosted” several Warner Brothers cartoons’ voice tracks for him.
At the time of the accident Mel Blanc was the voice of Barney Rubble in 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 hospital room and later at his home to allow him to work from there.
Some of the voice recordings were made while Mel was in full-body cast as he lay flat on his back with the other Flintstones co-stars gathered around him.
He also returned to The Jack Benny Program to film the program’s 1961 Christmas show, moving around via crutches and a wheelchair.
Then in the 1970s, Mel did a series of college lectures across the US.
He would also collaborate on a special with the Boston-based Shriners Burns Institute called Ounce of Prevention, which became a 30-minute TV special.
After spending most of two seasons voicing the robot Twiki in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Mel Blanc’s last original character in the early 1980s was Heathcliff, who spoke a little like Bugs Bunny. Mel 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.
One of his last recording sessions was for a new animated theatrical version of The Jetsons.
In the early 1980s, Blanc appeared on commercials for American Express, as well as a 9 Lives cat food spots featuring Sylvester, which combined live action and animation.
In 1983, comedian Rick Moranis had Mel voice the father of Bob and Doug MacKenzie in the film Strange Brew.
Mel Blanc voiced most of his well known Looney Tunes characters in the 1988 live-action/animated comedy-mystery film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, saving Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn for Joe Alaskey, who voiced both characters.
As Disney released the film it had to ask permission to use the Warner Bros. characters in the film.
“That’s all Folks”
On May 19, 1989, Mel Blanc was checked into the hospital by his family when they noticed he had a bad cough.
While there, Mel was diagnosed with emphysema, a lung disease, and was originally expected to recover. His health then took a turn for the worst when he complained of chest pains and heart arrythmias, followed by constant vomiting and coughing up of blood.
Doctors discovered he had cardiovascular disease, a serious heart condition in which the arteries of the heart are narrowed due to plaque buildup.
Mel Blanc died July 10, 1989 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California at the age of 81. 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” (the phrase was a trademark of the character Porky Pig, for whom Blanc provided the voice).
Mel’s death 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.
Indeed, as movie critic Leonard Maltin once pointed out, “It is astounding to realize that Tweety Bird and Yosemite Sam are the same man!”
After his death, Mel’s voice continued to be heard in newly released properties such as Woody’s laugh in games such as Woody Woodpecker: Escape from Buzz Buzzard Park.
In particular, a recording of his Dino the Dinosaur from the 1960s Flintstones series was used without a screen credit in the 1994 live-action theatrical film based upon the series.
The credit was later added to the home release of the movie.
Mel Blanc trained his son Noel in the field of voice characterization.
Although 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.
Having earned the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices”, Mel Blanc is regarded as one of the most influential people in the voice-acting industry.
For his contributions, Mel Blanc has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Boulevard.
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