Advertisement

Mel Blanc, voice of a thousand cartoons, dies at 81

By
G. LUTHER WHITINGTON

LOS ANGELES -- Mel Blanc, the man of a thousand voices who captivated generations of youngsters and adults alike with the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and a host of other cartoon characters, died of heart disease Monday. He was 81.

'He loved every minute of doing those voices. He became those characters,' his son Noel told United Press International. 'And his last recorded words in a commercial we did the day he went into the hospital were 'That's all folks.''

Advertisement

That phrase, known to millions as the parting shot of Porky the Pig, and thousands of others were created by Blanc during more than five decades of voice-over work in Hollywood's cartoon industry.

Blanc, who had been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center since May 19, died at 2:30 p.m. of heart disease and other related medical problems, hospital spokesman Ron Wise said. His wife of 56 years, Estelle, and his son were by his side when he died.

Blanc worked in radio, movie and television as the voice behind the cartoons, creating Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, and Daffy Duck. The voice of Bugs Bunny's nemesis, Elmer Fudd, often attributed to Blanc, was actually done by Cliff Nazarro.

Advertisement

It took the portly comedian two years to land a job in Hollywood. Warner Bros. gave Blanc his first break in 1937 when he was told to come up with a cartoon voice for a drunken bull. He did and was hired the same day.

When cartoons were a part of every movie bill of fare, Blanc was dubbing at least 50 cartoons a year and once estimated he worked in more than 1,000 pictures.

While he never personally won an Academy Award, one of the six Oscars his voice helped earn for Warner Bros. later was presented to him by the widow of a studio chief.

'They (the cartoon characters) were all Mel Blanc. He not only gave them immortality, but won it for himself. As long as these cartoons are seen and enjoyed, Mel Blanc's genius will be there for everyone,' Warner Bros. Chairman Robert A. Daly said.

'The reservoir of Hollywood legends is nearly empty and that saddens me and many who care about Hollywood,' said actor Mickey Rooney. 'We're not replacing the likes of Mel Blanc today. I will miss him.'

Blanc was born in San Francisco May 30, 1908, and reared in Portland, Ore., where he said he got his start in show business 'entertaining students and teachers, getting big laughs and lousy grades.'

Advertisement

It was as a teenager that he created the cackle that later became Woody Woodpecker.

After a stint on a Portland radio station, Blanc returned to San Francisco where he joined another radio station, then moved to Hollywood and fame.

In radio's heyday, he starred with such performers as Jack Benny, Judy Canova, Abbott and Costello and Burns and Allen.

Benny hired him to do the voice of Carmichael, the growling bear that guarded Benny's basement vault.

'Finally I told Jack I could talk, too,' Blanc recalled later. 'So he let me do the train announcer who called out 'All aboard for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga.' I also did his Maxwell car, his parrot and some of the other characters.'

Blanc's first famous voice was that of Porky Pig who stuttered, 'That's all, folks' for Warner cartoons.

Then came the voice of Bugs Bunny and the line, 'What's up, Doc?' which was mimicked nationwide and solidified Blanc's reputation.

Another line he made famous was Tweety's 'I tawt I taw a puddy tat' and a Blanc recording using that line as its title sold more than 2 million copies, as did his 'Woody Woodpecker Song.'

When French actor Charles Boyer was popular, Blanc and his associates created a romantic skunk with a beret and a Boyer accent. The character, Pepe Le Pew, was another hit.

Advertisement

He attributed his talent to 'having a good ear and hearing myself reproduce. I don't like to copy a voice, I'd rather improvise.'

The only person to copy his voice, his son Noel, now does voice-overs needed for his father's famous characters.

Blanc also created a score of voices for cartoons including Barney Rubble of 'The Flintstones' and several characters in ABC's 'Curiosity Shop,' a children's educational show.

The comedian enjoyed the sobriquet, 'man with a thousand voices.'

'One day I started numbering my voices aloud,' he said, 'But by the time I got to 400 I fell asleep.' He said, though, that he had since created others and could live up to his name.

Blanc once went to court in an effort to protect the distinctive laugh he created for Woody Woodpecker and which had been used by a musical firm.

But a judge dismissed his $520,000 suit, ruling that no matter how distinctive, the laugh was in the public domain and he could not collect damages from anyone who imitated it.

In 1961, his car crashed into another vehicle in Los Angeles. Blanc was in a coma for three weeks with head injuries, fractured pelvis and two broken legs.

Advertisement

'They wrote my father's obituary after that accident, but he's been working every day since,' the younger Blanc said.

Blanc enjoyed telling how his physician was unable to communicate with him while he was in the coma until he said, 'Well, good morning Bugs Bunny, how are you today?'

Blanc swore that in his unconscious state he replied, 'What's up, Doc?'

Latest Headlines