That's Not All Folks!
By Mel Blanc and Philip Bashe, Warner Books, 1989
Okay, Now That's All Folks.
But how cool is that?
That Left Turn at Albuquerque
It's quite possible that Mel Blanc was my first personal hero. In our household, Warner Bros. cartoons were the main source of information about how movies work, particularly how they work well, through direction (including art and music direction), writing, editing, scene composition, and character development. When I realized that one guy did 90% of the acting, it kind of blew my mind and helped me develop an abiding respect (and an ear) for voice actors thereafter.
Melvin Blank (with a "k") was born in San Francisco to a couple who ran a ladies-wear business, and moved with his family shortly thereafter to Portland, Oregon, where he lived until the mid-1930s. By the time he graduated from high school in 1927, Blanc had already displayed a talent for mimicry and character voices. That awful Woody Woodpecker laugh came from one of Mel's class clown improvisations, for instance, but his post-school career was as a musician in the NBC Radio Orchestra and pit conductor at Portland's Orpheum Theatre.
Blanc married Estelle Rosenbaum in 1933 and the couple hosted a local radio program called "Cobwebs and Nuts," in which Mel provided all the voices (because the management was too cheap to hire more actors). Eventually, the couple moved to Los Angeles where Mel picked up a lot of work as a character actor on a variety of radio programs, not the least of which was as "The Maxwell," Jack Benny's car. He also voiced the first four Woody Woodpecker cartoons (thanks to that horrible horrible laugh) and did some work for Disney Studios, but was soon under exclusive contract to Leon Schlesinger's company, which produced all of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts for Warner Bros.
Mel Blanc helped create some of the most famous characters in motion picture and television history: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Marvin Martian, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester Cat, Tweety Bird, Wile E. Coyote, and the Roadrunner, to name a few. By 1960, Blanc had switched to television cartoons, still for Warner Bros. Looney Tunes franchises (The Bugs Bunny Show and its derivatives), but also for Hanna-Barbera classics, such as The Flintstones (Barney Rubble and Dino), The Jetsons (Cosmo Spacely), The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (The Bully Brothers), and Yogi's Gang (Secret Squirrel) among many others.
In 1961, Blanc was nearly killed in a car crash and lay unconscious for weeks in the hospital. He was unresponsive to doctor's questions when they asked how Mel Blanc was feeling, but when they asked after Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig, he answered in the character voice. This went on for days until Mel Blanc finally woke as himself. Perhaps this is an apocryphal tale, but I like it. It's spooky.
He made a few appearances as a human being in character spots on the Jack Benny program and other shows in the early 1960s, but stuck mainly with cartoon voicing and worked on nearly every popular Saturday morning cartoon up until 1989 -- including a lot of crap (I'm talking to you, Scooby's Laff-A Lympics), but the man enjoyed his work.
And he was so very good at it. If it weren't for Mel Blanc's tremendous talent and influence, we probably would not be enjoying the work of today's best and most versatile voice actors: Hank Azaria, Tom Kenny, Seth MacFarlane, Tress MacNeille, Harry Shearer, and Tara Strong, to name just a few. He raised the bar incredibly high.
Mel Blanc died of heart disease on July 10, 1989, surrounded by his family very much loved and very much missed.