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Mel Blanc Dies; Gave Voice to Cartoon World

July 11, 1989|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer

At Schlesinger, Blanc was rebuffed several times by the same production supervisor. But the man finally died. So after more than a year of knocking on the door as persistently as Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner, Blanc was offered an oral test by the supervisor's successor.

The audition was rather unorthodox--at least for anyone other than a cartoon voice.

"One of the (directors) said, 'Can you do a drunken bull?' So I had to think for a moment and I said, 'Yeah,' . . . I'd shound, hic, like I was a little loaded, hic, and looking for the, hic, sour mash."

Blanc did better than the Coyote ever did. He got the job, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Blanc's first major memorable role was that of Porky Pig, which he was offered in 1937 after studio officials decided that the porcine personality, who was originally introduced in 1935, needed a face-lift.

"Leon called me in and asked me if I could do a pig--a fine thing to ask a Jewish kid," Blanc recalled. "The guy they were using actually had a stutter and used up yards of film. But I could stutter and ad lib in rhythm."

Bugs Bunny followed a year later. "They originally wanted to call Bugs Bunny the Happy Hare. But the writer was called Bugs Hardaway and had a snappy way about him. He'd say things like, 'Hey, what's cookin?' I said, 'Let's use it. It's modern.' That became 'What's up, Doc?' Bugs was a tough little stinker; that's why I came up with a Brooklyn accent. I always worked on creating a vocal quality to match the characters."

Blanc, indeed, was proud of his voices, proclaiming to interviewers: "I created every voice that I do (except Elmer Fudd).

"I will not imitate. I think imitation is stealing from another person."

In the case of Porky, Blanc claimed to have visited a pig farm and "wallowed around" for two weeks in order to "be real authentic."

90% of Warner's Stable

In time, Blanc provided the voices for more than 90% of Warner's stable of cartoon characters. For most of them, he helped develop the distinctive personas in tandem with such giants of the field as animator-directors Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Robert McKimson.

"I create the personality when they tell me what the story is and so on," he once explained. "Sylvester was sloppy. Tweety was a baby with a baby's voice. Daffy was egotistical."

Before signing an exclusive cartoon contract with Warners, Blanc also worked free lance for Walter Lantz, for whom he developed the laugh of Woody Woodpecker, and for Walt Disney. Unfortunately, his 16 days of work on Disney's Pinocchio wound up on the cutting room floor, except for a single hiccup by a cat named "Giddy."

It was one of the few cases in which Blanc was not successful. Blanc, in fact, eventually became the first voice specialist to earn over-the-title credits on cartoons.

Blanc later credited those credits with untapping a steady stream of radio work on such shows as Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly and Jack Benny.

On the Benny show, Blanc began with a growl--a bear growl. The bear was named Carmichael, and he guarded Benny's vault.

"Well, I did the bear growl for six months, and that's all I did was just the bear growl. Finally I said to him, 'You know, Mr. Benny, I can also talk.' "

Benny quickly submitted, tabbing Blanc to do the train station announcer, a parrot who called Benny a cheapskate, a harried retail salesman, Benny's exasperated violin teacher Prof. LeBlanc, and Cy from Tijuana, who answered most queries, "Si."

When Benny went to TV, Blanc made the transition too, doing on-camera stints in his character roles. Blanc also had bit parts in several movies and starred in his own forgettable comedy CBS Radio network show in 1946, in which he played the owner of a fix-it shop.

In 1960, Blanc turned to made-for-TV cartoons, providing voices for a Saturday morning Bugs Bunny show and for two of the characters on "The Flintstones"--Barney Rubble and the pet dinosaur, Dino. For a time following his 1961 accident, Blanc taped his part at home with a microphone suspended over his bed.

In the following years, further TV cartoon roles included Secret Squirrel, Mr. Cosmo G. Spacely on "The Jetsons," Hardy Har Har on "Lippy the Lion" and Droop-a-long on the "Magilla Gorilla Show."

Over time, though, the quality of cartoons deteriorated as animation costs rose and writing values changed, Blanc reflected.

"They're not as funny as they used to be, and they seem like they're just slapped together now," Blanc said in 1975. " . . . They're playing too much just to the children, not enough to the adults . . . (and) they're just not as animated as they should be."

By that time, Blanc had diversified, forming his own production company, along with his son Noel.

Since the early 1960s, the firm has produced commercials for such products as Kool Aid, Raid and Chrysler cars and for nonprofit agencies including the American Cancer Society.

In 1988, Blanc performed a bit part as Daffy Duck in the wildly successful film feature, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

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