Man of a Thousand Voices

RemingtonOne of television’s greatest stars would probably be unrecognizable to most people, but his voice is burned in our collective memory.  Mel Blanc.  In fact, he had many voices.

Mel Blanc’s vocal roster of characters includes Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Tweety Bird.  But his contributions to television were not limited to cartoons.  One of his hallmark characters was the frustrated train conductor on a classic sketch for The Jack Benny Show.  When no passengers get on the train after several announcements of the train stops Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga, Blanc exclaims in exasperation, “Doesn’t anybody want to go to Anaheim, Azusa, or Cucamonga?!”  Blanc also provided the sounds of Benny’s Maxwell car, a vehicle that made more noise than any lemon you can imagine.

The television world almost lost Mel Blanc in 1961 after a horrific car accident.  His 1989 obituary in the Los Angeles Times recounted the incident.  After the accident, Blanc was in a coma at the UCLA Medical Center.  Doctors tried to elicit Blanc’s voice, to determine how he was feeling.  It was an effort for naught.  The man of a thousand voices was silent.  A doctor tried another approach.  He asked how Bugs Bunny was feeling.  Blanc responded in character, “Just fine, doc.  How are you?”  The doctor then asked how Porky Pig was feeling.  Blanc again responded in character, “J-j-just fine, thanks.”

Mel Blanc did more than give a voice to a character, however.  What would Daffy Duck be without stubbornness, perseverance, and frustration?  What would Bugs Bunny be without the Brooklyn accent, wise guy attitude, and inevitable charm?  What would Woody Woodpecker and Barney Rubble be without their distinctive laughs?

When Mel Blanc died in 1989, his epitaph summarized the impact of his talent, the likes of which we’ll probably never hear again.  Under a Star of David, the epitaph on Blanc’s tombstone reads, “That’s all folks.”  It’s Blanc’s statement to the world.  The world’s statement to Blanc was nicely portrayed in an advertisement with the Looney Tunes characters bowing their heads sadly before a microphone.  The word “Speechless” appears right above his Blanc’s name and his birth and death years, 1908-1989.

Mel Blanc did more than give his characters a personality.  He gave them immortality.  Saturday morning cartoons do not have the same status today as they did during the childhoods of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.  But through DVDs, cable television, and our personal television memory banks, we can relive, rediscover, and remember animation’s Golden Era built largely because of one man and his voice.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

Share this post

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,