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"the man of a thousand voices"
Melvin Jerome Blank was born in San Francisco, California, on May 30, 1908, and, from age seven, was raised in Portland, Oregon, where his parents managed a ladies' ready-to-wear apparel business. His gift for voices began showing at an early age, when he tried (often successfully) to imitate the many ethnic voices he heard in his neighborhood. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1927, despite being known more for his antics than attention to studies. According to Mel, he legally changed his last name to "Blanc" at age 16, after one of his teachers told him he would never amount to anything more than his name, "Blank."
Blanc began performing professionally right out of high school, as a musician. An accomplished bassist, violinist, and sousaphone player, he split his time between leading an orchestra, becoming the youngest conductor in the country at the age of 19, and performing shtick in regional vaudeville shows before landing his first radio gig. That gig was as a voice actor on the KGW program The Hoot Owls, where his ability to voice multiple characters made him a local celebrity.
The celebrity that Blanc got with The Hoot Owls did not come with much of a paycheck, so in 1932 he decided to look for better opportunities in Los Angeles. While there, he met Estelle Rosenbaum, whom he married on January 4, 1933.
Returning to Portland soon after his marriage, Mel was hired by KEX to produce and host a daily one-hour show called Cobweb and Nuts, with Estelle as his co-host. As he had on The Hoot Owls, Blanc voiced multiple characters, but this time it was because the station refused to hire any other talent. After two years of hard work for very little pay, Mel and Estelle decided to return to Los Angeles. This time the move paid off, as Mel's star and income began to rise almost immediately.
Between 1935 and 1946, Blanc worked as a character actor on more than 15 radio shows, including Burns and Allen and Abbott and Costello. His most important gig during this time was The Jack Benny Program, in which he played violin teacher Professor LeBlanc, the tormented department store clerk, the train announcer, Carmichael the polar bear, Polly the Parrott, Cy from Tijuana, and even Benny's antique Maxwell automobile. Blanc was, in fact, so good in those roles that he continued to provide the voices for most of the characters after Benny made the move to television.
During World War II, Blanc appeared as Private Sad Sack on various radio shows, most notably G.I. Journal.
Blanc enjoyed a very successful radio career, but he really wanted to use his voice talents in cartoons. To that end, he spent over a year trying to get an audition with Leon Schlesinger, the original producer of Looney Tunes. He finally got that audition in 1937, and was immediately hired on a per-picture basis. The first cartoon Blanc worked on was 1937's Picador Porky, as the voice of a drunken bull. He received his first starring role when he replaced Joe Dougherty as Porky Pig's voice in Porky's Duck Hunt, which marked the debut of Daffy Duck, also voiced by Blanc. Blanc went on to become the voice of virtually every character created by Looney Tunes prior to 1960, including Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, and Elmer Fudd.
Blanc was eventually signed to an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. (who had acquired the rights to Looney Tunes), but prior to that he was hired to perform the voice of Gideon the Cat in Disney's Pinocchio. Disney ended up deciding that Gideon should be a mute character, however, and all of Blanc's work, except for a solitary hiccup, ended up on the cutting room floor. Blanc also created the trademark voice and laugh for Walter Lantz's Woody Woodpecker, but stopped voicing the character after signing the contract with Warner Bros.
During World War II, Blanc provided the voice of Private Snafu in training films for the soldiers.
Blanc continued working for Warner Bros. after his exclusive contract ended in 1960, but also began providing voices for Hanna-Barbera cartoons. His most famous roles for Hanna-Barbera were Barney Rubble and Dino for The Flintstones and Mr. Cosmo Spacely for The Jetsons. He was also the voice of Secret Squirrel, Speed Buggy, and Captain Caveman, and provided voices for The Perils of Penelope Pitstop and Wally Gator. From 1963 to 1967, Blanc provided voice effects for Chuck Jones' Tom and Jerry series. Blanc was also the first voice of Froot Loops "spokesman" Toucan Sam.
On January 24, 1961, Blanc was driving on Sunset Boulevard when his sports car collided head-on with a car driven by 18-year-old college student Arthur Rolston. Rolston suffered minor inuries, but Blanc was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center with a triple skull fracture that left him in a coma for two weeks, as well as fractures to both legs and the pelvis. Noel Blanc was able to "ghost" several Warner Bros. cartoon tracks while his father recovered, but at the time of the accident Blanc was also serving as the voice of Barney Rubble in The Flintstones. Daws Butler provided the voice of Barney 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 recordings were made while he was in a full-body cast and flat on his back, with his 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.
Blanc's television cartoon work had lessened by the mid-1970s, but by then he and his son had formed their own production company, which produced commercials for Kool Aid, Raid, Chrysler, the American Cancer Society, etc.
Throughout the 1980s, Blanc performed his Looney Tunes characters for bridging sequences in various compilation films of Golden-Age era Warner Bros. cartoons. His final performances in Looney Tunes roles was in Daffy Duck's Quackbusters and Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, both of which were released in 1988.
After spending most of two seasons (1979-1981) voicing the robot Twiki in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Blanc's last original character was Heathcliff, in the early 1980s. In the 1983 live-action film Strange Brew, Blanc voiced the father of Bob and Doug MacKenzie, at the request of comedian Rick Moranis.
Mel Blanc died in Los Angeles on July 10, 1989. He is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
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This page was last updated on 07/10/2018.