Welcome to ‘Voices from the Screen’. In this new section of HeadStuff’s animation coverage, our writer Joseph Learoyd will celebrate the careers of famous voice actors.
Mel Blanc was born Melvin Jerome Blank in 1908 in San Francisco to parents of Russian Jewish descent. He changed the spelling of his name aged 16, before becoming the youngest orchestra conductor in the United States by 19, while also performing shtick in vaudeville shows. He made his radio debut in 1927 on the KGW program The Hoot Owls, and became noticed for being able to provide voices for multiple different characters.
After some time in radio, Blanc would go on to work with Leon Schlesinger Productions who were creating shorts for Warner Brothers. He voiced a bull in his first cartoon, the short Picador Porky in 1937. Due to his skill with accents, Blanc was quickly made the new voice of Porky the Pig in Porky’s Duck Hunt, in which he also voiced Daffy Duck in his debut cartoon.
Mel Blanc would go on to voice many major Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies characters, most famously, Bugs Bunny. He would lend his talents to Tweety Pie, the small yellow canary, and Sylvester, the cat, as well as Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil. He also originated the voice and laugh of Woody Woodpecker in an uncredited appearance and contributed to the World War II cartoon adventures of Private Snafu – voicing the title character in a number of shorts on the dos and don’ts of the war effort.
In 1961, Blanc was involved in a near-fatal car accident. A period of much-needed recovery led to a brief pause in his voice-over work. He was temporarily replaced in his role as Barney Rubble in The Flintstones as he recovered but soon after, Blanc was back up and running again. He had been in a coma for two weeks, having sustained a number of fractures across his body. That didn’t stop him, and soon, while in a full-body cast, he was recording shows again.
He went on to voice the Looney Tunes ensemble in the 1980’s films Bugs Bunny’s 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales and Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island. He also reprised his most famous roles for their appearance in the groundbreaking animation/live-action hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. He also voiced Heathcliff in the 1980s animated series of the same name, based on the famous comic strip cat created by George Gately.
Another iconic role of Blanc’s was the character of Cosmo Spacely in the animated sci-fi sitcom The Jetsons, to which he lent his voice in the 60s, and again in the 80s. He would reprise the role, along with playing some additional parts, in Jetsons: The Movie – released posthumously in 1990, which was dedicated to his memory. Blanc died after spending two months in hospital after the discovery of advanced coronary artery disease. He was 81 years old, The inscription on his grave reads, “That’s All Folks”, a nod to Porky Pig’s famous catchphrase. His legacy continues to this day, with his work constantly being referenced and nodded to in later animations and films.
The life that Blanc breathed into his animated characters put a smile on the faces of people all around the world. Throughout his career, which spanned over 60 years, he voiced too many now-iconic characters to all list here and in doing so, touched the childhoods of so many. What he did for the animation industry, the love that he put into every sound, means he will be forever remembered as one of the greatest voice actors to ever work in the industry.