Known in Hollywood as "The Man of a Thousand Voices," Mel Blanc (1908-1989) was the versatile cartoon voice creator of such unforgettable characters as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck.
Blanc's voices have become standard-bearers for American popular culture throughout the world, heard, by some estimates, by more than 20 million people every day. Each of his characters is distinctive and many developed a trademark line that became famous, like "I tawt I taw a puddy tat!" (Tweety), "What's up, Doc?" (Bugs Bunny), "Thhhhufferin' Thhhhuccotash!" (Sylvester), and "Beep-beep!" (Road Runner). Blanc did the majority of his work for Warner Bros., performing in over 3,000 cartoons for that studio in a career that spanned more than 50 years, but he also worked for other animated film makers and as a memorable radio actor.
Born in 1908 and growing up in Portland, Oregon, Blanc studied music, becoming proficient on the bass, violin, and sousaphone. But he discovered a more amazing instrument in his own voice. "I used to look at animals and wonder, how would that kitten sound if it could talk," he said in the New York Times. " I'd tighten up my throat and make a very small voice, not realizing I was rehearsing." After marrying and working for a short time as a radio actor, Blanc moved to Los Angeles and joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, a cartoon workshop that eventually developed the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies characters for Warner Bros. While playing the part of a drunken bull in "Porky Picador," Blanc relates in his autobiography That's Not All Folks, the actor who was then portraying Porky actually did stutter. When Blanc was later asked to play Porky, he left the stutter in the act, and his first major character was born. Blanc next developed the character who was to become his favorite, Happy Hare, in another Warner Bros. short. He lent a brash, Bronx accent to the wiseguy rabbit that eventually became Bugs Bunny. "He's a little stinker," Blanc told the New York Times. "That's why people love him. He does what most people would like to do but don't have the guts to do." More famous characters followed, including Pepe LePew, Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, Speedy Gonzales, and Yosemite Sam.
Despite his proficiency, Blanc did not own the rights to any of his characters and never earned more than $20,000 in a single year from Warner Bros., so he, was forced to pursue other activities. In the 1960s he was co-producer and voice animator for ABC's "The Bugs Bunny Show," a Saturday morning series that featured Looney Tunes characters in new cartoons designed for television. He also provided the voices for Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone's pet dinosaur, Dino, for the first prime-time cartoon series, "The Flintstones." Through the years, Blanc also kept up his work in radio, primarily as an actor and special effects creator for "The Jack Benny Show," on which he portrayed Benny's mexican gardener, Sy; his violin teacher, Mr. LeBlanc; his wise-cracking parrot; and his pet polar bear. Blanc also formed his own company to produce radio and television advertising. His last cartoon contribution came in the popular 1988 mixed-animation film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," in which he performed the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety, and Porky Pig. In assessing why his characters have become so endearing to all age-groups, Blanc told the New York Times: " What we tried to do was amuse ourselves. We didn't make pictures for children. We didn't make pictures for adults. We made them for ourselves." Mel Blanc died in 1989.
Further Reading on Mel Blanc
Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1989.
New York Times, July 11, 1989.