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A case could be made that Mel Blanc, via his connection with Bugs Bunny, is actually the voice of one of the most popular and influential creatures known to mankind. After all, the Warner Brothers studio estimated at one point that on any given day, approximatly 250 million people hear and recognize the voice of Bugs. What? Bugs Bunny is not real? A much better way of describing the relationship between Blanc and Bugs is to tell the story of when the talented Hollywood voice artist had a terrible car accident and as a result was in a coma for a long period of time, with little hope of recovery. That is, until one day a doctor came into the room and decided to try something different, seeing as how it was that time of the day when the old Looney Tunes cartoons were being broadcast. He turned up the sound and the voices of Porky Pig and others began booming around the room. The comatose Blanc began to stir. All of a sudden he was snapping out of his coma and working the voice of Bugs Bunny. The busy career Blanc created for himself out of his ability to work unusual voices and his comical personality included not only the well-known cartoon work and television appearances such as the Jack Benny Show, but in a variety of recording projects aimed at children but appreciated by cartoon fans of all ages. It was his muscular vocal chords that made Blanc a natural for any kind of recording project, and it was said that no matter what he had been up to or how much he had been using his voice, he could still work the constantly shouting, overblown Yosemite Sam for hours, no problem.
Blanc supposedly developed his gift for doing voices and other vocal calisthenics early on. The madcap, piercing laugh that would eventually be associated with Woody Woodpecker was a gimmick Blanc the adolescent developed to drive teachers crazy in grade school. And like many great performers, there was a method and seriousness to his work, even in the creation of something like this laugh. The Woody bit only came about after extensive acoustic experimentation with the echoing characteristics of the hallways in his high school. Blanc jumped into show business professionally as soon as he graduated, but his first choice was music. He was proficient on three instruments and began working in the NBC Radio Orchestra. He also worked as a conductor of the pit orchestra at the Orpheum Theatre in Portland.
A shift in his performing interests came about after his marraige to performer Estelle Rosenhaum. The couple began hosting a daily one-hour radio show entitled Cobwebs and Nuts. They wanted to expand the number of actors on the show, but the management said forget it. Faced with these budgetary restrictions, Blanc began inventing voices enough for an entire repertory company. After listening to this insanity for two years, his wife encouraged him to head for Hollywood and try at the big time. He spent the first years working as a character actor on various radio shows, all the time trying to audition for the production company that had produced the early Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, headed up by one Leon Schelesinger. A production supervisor screening applicants for the boss told Blanc to pitch his tent elsewhere three times. Lucky for Blanc, this guy dropped dead one day. The next man to take over offered Blanc an actual oral test. He passed the challenging first test, which was to portray a drunken bull. In 1937 he was offered the role of Porky Pig. "A fine thing to ask a Jewish kid," was Blanc's initial reaction to this offer, but he took on the character and made great improvements over the earlier version of the pig, much of the progress attributable to Blanc's ability to stutter and ad lib in rhythm. The next year came Bugs Bunny, who was originally supposed to be known as "the Happy Hare." Blanc made radical changes in the character by making it act more like one of the writers on the cartoon, Bugs Hardaway. This man was something of a hipster and was always making comments such as "What's cookin'?" and "What's up, Doc?" Blanc gave the rabbit a Brooklyn accent and much jive talk snagged from Hardaway. The rest was history. But one of the strangest aspects of recording the rabbit's voice was that Blanc was unable to maintain the characterization if he had a bite of carrot. So, whenever Bugs is eating a carrot, every single sound of the vegetable being bitten had to be edited in seperately.
Blanc was by far the number one voice artist on the Warner Brothers lot, providing the voices for at least 90 percent of the cartoon characters and working closely with great animation directors such as Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, and Fritz Freleng. He also worked freelance for Walter Lantz, who got the benefit of all the years of research into obnoxious laughing carried out during Blanc's school days. Blanc was also not a total stranger to the Walt Disney studios, but his efforts there do not represent the pinnacle of his success. For example, he worked for weeks on the cartoon film Pinnochio, but every single bit of it ended up on the cutting room floor except for one single hiccup, emitted by a minor character, a cat named Giddy. This is hardly an example of Blanc's career, however. He was, if anything, the greatest success in the history of cartoon voice-overs, and was the first such artist to receive over-the-title credits for his work. He became closely identified with his characters, easy to recognize and desirable to have on board any kind of entertaining project, leading to loads of radio work on shows such as Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, and the previously mentioned comedian Benny. For the six months on the Benny show, all Blanc did was work the voice of a bear named Carmichael that guarded the stingy comedian's hoard of money. After six months of growling, Blanc apparently took Benny aside and said "You know, Mr. Benny, I can talk." Among the roles Blanc got out of this suggestion were that of the frustrated violin teacher Professor LeBlanc and the Mexican character Cy who answers most questions with "Si."
In the '60s, Blanc turned more and more to television cartoons for work and became involved in a series of recordings for Capitol that were distributed by the worldwide children's firm Ziv International. Working in conjunction with music arrangers such as Billy May, Blanc drew on his arsenal of characters from across the spectrum of studios. Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tune gang and even Woody Woodpecker are brought to life by Blanc on these records. He became closely involved in the creation of some of this material, even emerging as a songwriter with "I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat," a sophisticated romantic ballad sung by Tweety. In the '70s he became critical of the quality of the cartoons he was forced to work in, although he never expressed the slightest interest in retiring.
Blanc's son Noel Blanc became interested in his father's work from an early age and he was skilled enough at imitating the imitator that he was called in to substitute for his dad following the car accident in the early '60s. Since his father's death in 1989, Noel has taken over the Blanc dynasty of voices completely, providing voices for newer shows such as Tiny Toon Adventures as well as hundreds of products involving the voice of Bugs and others, such as talking wall clocks.