Melvin Jerome “Mel” Blanc was an American voice actor and comedian. Although he began his nearly six-decade-long career performing in radio commercials, Blanc is best known for his work with Warner Bros. during the so-called “Golden Age of American animation” (and later for Hanna-Barbera television productions) as the voice of such well-known characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Beaky Buzzard, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Barney Rubble, Mr. Spacely, and hundreds of others. Having earned the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” Blanc is regarded as one of the most influential persons in his field.
Born Melvin Jerome Blank in San Francisco, California, to Jewish parents, Frederick and Eva Blank, he grew up in Portland, Oregon, attending Lincoln High School. At 16, he changed the spelling of his last name from “Blank,” reportedly because a teacher told him that he would amount to nothing and be, like his last name, “blank.” Blanc began his radio career in 1927 as a voice actor on the KGW program The Hoot Owls, where his ability to create voices for multiple characters first attracted attention. Blanc moved to sister station KEX in 1933 to produce and host his Cobweb And Nuts program.
Moving to Warner Brothers-owned KFWB in Hollywood, California, in 1935, Blanc joined The Johnny Murray Show; then, in 1936, he moved to CBS Radio and The Joe Penner Show. Beginning in the late 1930s, Blanc was a regular on the NBC Red Network show The Jack Benny Program in various roles, including Benny’s automobile (a Maxwell in desperate need of a tune-up), violin teacher Professor LeBlanc, Polly the Parrot, Benny’s pet polar bear Carmichael, the tormented department store clerk, and the train announcer.
One of Blanc’s most memorable characters from Benny’s radio (and later TV) programs was “Sy, the Little Mexican,” who spoke one word at a time. The famous “Sí…Sy…sew…Sue” routine was so effective that no matter how many times it was performed, the laughter was always there, thanks to the comedic timing of Blanc and Benny.
At times, sharp-eyed audience members (and later, TV viewers) could see Benny struggling to keep a straight face; Blanc’s absolute dead-pan delivery was a formidable challenge for him. Benny’s daughter, Joan, recalls that Mel Blanc was one of her father’s closest friends in real life, because “nobody else on the show could make him laugh the way Mel could.”
Another famous Blanc shtick on Jack’s show was the train depot announcer who inevitably intoned, sidelong, “Train leaving on Track Five for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga.” Part of the joke was the Angeleno studio audience’s awareness that no such train existed connecting those then-small towns (years before Disneyland opened). To the wider audience, the primary joke was the pregnant pause that evolved over time between “Cuc..” and “…amonga”; eventually, minutes would pass while the skit went on as the audience awaited the inevitable conclusion of the word. (At least once, a completely different skit followed before the inevitable “…amonga” finally appeared.)
Blanc’s success on The Jack Benny Program led to his own radio show on the CBS Radio Network, The Mel Blanc Show, which ran from September 3, 1946, to June 24, 1947. Blanc played himself as the hapless owner of a fix-it shop, as well as a wide range of comical support characters. Other regular characters were played by Mary Jane Croft, Joseph Kearns, Hans Conried, Alan Reed, Earle Ross, Jim Backus, Bea Benaderet and The Sportsmen Quartet, who would supply a song and sing the Colgate Tooth Powder commercials. (Blanc would later work with Reed and Benaderet on The Flintstones.) (Read more.)