There are some people who can not be topped. You can paint a picture, but Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa. You can make be a ventriloquist, but Shari Lewis already has put all your talents to shame. This brings me to voice actors. There are no shortage of greats. Charles Adler, who I’m convinced has vocal chords of steel, because he can do voices that hurt one’s throat just by thinking about how many takes he must do. Tara Strong who possesses the title of “Person who can produce the cutest voice.” And Frank Welker, a man who I think has eaten various different animal voice boxes, because I can’t fathom how a human could create pitch perfect growls, grunts, and other guttural bellows.
Then there is Mel Blanc. As fantastic as those other three are, he tops them. He will always be the top of the voice acting pile. You can become a good voice actor. You can be a great voice actor. You can become the most sought after voice actor in the world. But you’ll never be the master. There was only one. And this is his story.
May 30, 1908. Melvin Jerome Blanc was born. Greatness starts small, so one could forgive him for not astounding us the moment he exited the womb. The lad was fascinated by sounds. Specifically, voices. He took to doing some of his own during his childhood years. Also, according to him, his last name was originally “Blank.” But during high school, some dick-douche of a teacher said Mel would forever be like his last name: a blank. (Is it some unspoken law of the universe, that if you are going to be among the best that humanity will ever offer, some jerk off isn’t going to praise you for your talents, but just go on about how you’ll never amount to anything? If this story is true, I’m hoping this teacher felt awful about themselves, and killed their whole family before offing themselves so the gene pool would no longer be contaminated by their asinine actions.)
After school, Mel began working on radio programs. Seems his constant practice had paid off, and he was well known as a man who could supply many different voices. In 1932, he moved to L.A. and met someone her name was Estelle Rosenbaum. Since “Mel and Estelle” has such a nice ring to it, it’s no surprise that the two were wed. They did their own radio show called “Cobweb and Nuts” They didn’t need anybody else’s help with voices. Estelle was plenty capable, so she supplied all female voices, Mel took the males.
Estelle was instrumental in the next part of Mel’s life, and helped make him into the legend he is today. She suggested he go to Warner Bros. and let them make use of his voice. He agreed, seeing as how their cartoons weren’t doing very well at the time, and bland, uninteresting. voices were playing a part in that. Mel did not have an agent. He strolled inside the building and asked to show his stuff. The moron out front would not let him in, stating that they had all the voices they needed. (They only needed -43? I’m impressed.) Mel left. He came back two weeks later. The answer did not change. Don’t worry, the dumb man payed dearly for repeatedly turning away a talking gold mine, as Mel was stubborn enough to come back every two weeks for 2 YEARS! (It makes me wonder if they ever became friends, looking forward to the time that occurred every fortnight.)
Finally, that guy died. (Oh, don’t act you were never glad to hear someone croak.) Mel came in and found not the ordinary guy, but Treg Brown. Treg was a good man and instead of just shoving Mel away, allowed him to perform. Treg was a talented sound man, and he knew that Mel would help make this company’s characters immortal. Mel was introduced to Tex Avery who was in need of a voice for a drunkard. And so in “Picador Porky” Mel made his WB debut.
After this one performance, Mel was given an opportunity any serious voice legend would kill for. The star role of the series. Porky’s original voice of Joe Dougherty had a real stammer and it was to expensive to record him. Plus, it kind of hurts to hear Porky talk in those shorts. He sounds like he is trying to choke himself to death. Mel decided he didn’t want to mess this up, so he went out to a pig farm to get some pointers from the pros. (This man went to hang out with pigs. That alone is worthy of making him one of my heroes) After coming back to the studio, (and bathing. That was an important detour) He told of what he learned. Pigs grunt. If they spoke English, there’d be a lot of grunting involved. Porky’s speech is based on the “oin-oin-oink” our universe’s pigs have.
The first short to have Mel be Porky was “Porky’s Duck Hunt.” As you probably guessed, this short gave another character a chance to be blessed with Mel’s pipes. Daffy made his debut here, and Mel provided him with a voice of his own. Now things were really getting good. Mel wasn’t just voicing for Warners; he also played a part at MGM (he’s grandpa squirrel in Hugh Harman’s magnum opus, “Peace on Earth.”) Walter Lantz studios (being the first voice of Woody Woodpecker and coining his laugh) and even Disney! (He was cast as Gideon the cat in Pinocchio. Sadly, the decision to have the cat be mute was chosen, and even sadder all the dialogue has been lost to time. All that’s left is a hiccup. But it’s a solid hiccup! I’m sure you can’t make one that good on command!)
Naturally, Mel’s most famous role was Bugs Bunny. When told how tough Bugs was, Mel considered the type of voice the rabbit would have. (That’s another thing Mel did. When seeing a character for the first time, he stopped and thought about how they would talk) He considered the two toughest accents he knew: Brooklyn or the Bronx. Why not use both? Also, he suggested the rabbit not say “What’s cookin?” when “What’s up, doc?” was much more entertaining. And craziest of all: Mel was allergic to carrots. Yet, the crunch of these root vegetables were essential to the character, and it didn’t matter how many other kinds of produce they tried. Only carrots sound like carrots. Mel didn’t let any stupid thing like an allergy stop him! He took a bite, said the line, then spat the plant out. Every. Time. You can’t deny how many balls that takes.
By this time, Mel and Estelle had been blessed with their own child, Noel. (Who is still alive as I write this, and if he ever happens to read this, let it be known that I’m not above a little butt kissery. Noel, your dad was too good for this Earth! And don’t think I don’t know how talented you are. Being the offspring, you do an amazing job of replicating your father. You rock!) Back on track: Mel went to Leon Schlesinger and asked for a raise. Leon didn’t comply, but he did do something for Blanc that voice actors had never gotten before: on screen credit. I’d say, in the long run, this was much more rewarding, as now people had no excuse to not know the name. In fact, Mel got the whole credit for the cartoons voices, even if he barely was in it. All those Roadrunner shorts where the only dialogue is Paul Julian going “Meep-meep?” Mel got the credit. (This was only at Warners. Mel had signed a contract that kept him away from other cartoon studios by this point.)
Mel was doing quite well for himself. Not only is he voicing the greatest characters in the world, but he is in several different radio series. (Even his own at one point) It was pretty much impossible to not hear his words. Even more astounding: this man smoked. A pack a day. If you talk to someone who smokes that much, not only does your nose recoil at their stench, but your ears tend to do the same thing when they speak. Mel didn’t have that problem. People listened to him. And loved him. When his parents opened up a fix-it shop, they named it after him and had him visit the crowds. This attracted business like you wouldn’t believe. (They bought things too. They weren’t just wasting Mel’s time.)
If you’re getting sick of me praising the man, you might as well leave as I don’t intend to stop. Instead, I’ll prove his talent. Watch “Rabbit Fire.” At one point, Daffy pretends to be Bugs. In turn, Bugs pretends to be Daffy. Both of these voices are distinct from their normal selves, and even more astounding, each other. All you budding (and professional if you happen to read this) voice artists, try it. Have one of your characters imitate another one. And they can’t sound the same. It’s freaking impossible. And Mel did it.
Mel had standards. He didn’t like to copy others. When his colleague and friend, Arthur Q. Bryan died, Mel was asked to take over Fudd. He wasn’t happy, but he did voice Elmer for the rest of the toon’s appearances. (If I have to say one thing slightly negative about the voice god, his Elmer isn’t as great as the original. I’ll give him second place. Now don’t ever make me do that again!)
By 1960, his exclusive contract had expired, so he was free to breathe life into other toons. Hanna Barbera took advantage of this, and Mel began voicing many of their characters. Barney Rubble, Cosmo Spacely, Dino, Speed Buggy, Secret Squirrel, and Captain Caveman. (Of course there were more.) In addition, he did some sound effects for the Tom and Jerry shorts that were being made at this time, as well as giving a voice to the first appearance of Toucan Sam. But something else happened this decade. Something terrible.
On January 24, 1961, Mel left to do some more recording that he was so good at. He didn’t arrive. Turns out, he was caught in a car accident. (I’m putting all blame on the other guy, Arthur Rolston. Don’t try and defend him. He wasn’t killed, and for what he did to Mel, that’s unforgivable.) It was not a pretty sight. Nearly every one of Mel’s bones were broken. Worse yet, he was in a coma. And he wouldn’t come out of it. (Another fitting punishment for Rolston. A shame we all shared it.) Finally, one of the doctor’s had a brilliant idea! He asked Bugs if he heard him. Mel responded in Bug’s voice. That’s proof enough for me that toons exist in some way. Mel was probably going to be pronounced dead, but Bugs saved him.
Mel didn’t die that time, but he did spend the next months doing recordings in a full body cast. Warner’s had tried to get Stan Freberg to do Mel’s work for a time. Stan also had standards, and refused. (Hanna Barbera just had Daws Butler voice Barney. He could have said no, but didn’t. The round goes to Stan)
Even though he was beginning to get on in years, Mel did not stop entertaining. He visited children’s hospitals, answered every bit of fan mail, heck, he would call you up if it was your birthday and wish you a good one as your favorite character. He felt that as long as someone smiled, that was payment enough. Mel was a saint. He’s like if Charlie Brown got the admiration he deserves.
As time went on, Mel eventually had to drop his smoking habit. At age 77, he was diagnosed with emphysema. But you better believe that he did not quit acting! And good thing too, as a new movie was coming out that wouldn’t be as perfect as it ended up being, if it couldn’t have Mel. That was “Who framed Roger Rabbit.” And I can not think of a better film for him to leave us on.
Sadly it’s true. Even legends can’t live forever. After doing a car commercial with Noel, it was suggested that he visit a doctor as he was coughing an awful lot. While there, it was suggested he stay the night to recover. Things didn’t go as they should have, some dumb bass didn’t put rails on Mel’s bed, and he fell out. Also, it was revealed that he had advanced coronary artery disease. On July 10, 1989, at 81 years old, Mel departed this world and left behind a void that could never be completely filled.
After this happened, a piece of tribute art to Mel was painted. Titled “Speechless,” it shows many of his greatest roles, heads bowed in respect at the loss of a irreplaceable treasure.
I’m proud to say I have one of these.
Mel was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where he has the most fitting epitaph he could possibly have, “That’s All Folks.” (He had stated that he wanted this in his will.)
Do not weep for the loss of Mel. He knew he would die one day, and never feared death. (Shame that he died before I had the chance to be born. It would have been cool to hear him recording new lines on Cartoon Network.) Mel was a great man who can not and should not ever be replaced. It’s a crying shame that his name no longer is remembered as he once was. But all one has to do is watch some classic cartoons, for about seven minutes at a time, Mel can live again. And while the body may be gone, the spirit isn’t. Rest easy, Mel. You had a wonderful life, and everyone who knew you benefited from it.