What’s Up, Mel Blanc?

Mel BlancOn this day in 1908, the great voice actor Mel Blanc was born. He is best known for his voice characterizations for the Warner Bros’ cartoon shorts for characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, and Speedy Gonzales—all of which he created. He did not, however, create perhaps the most iconic Warner Bros’ cartoon character: Porky Pig, whose voice was created by voice actor and real-life stutterer Joe Dougherty.

I love Blanc, but to this day I bristle when the cartoons start and it says, “Voice Characterization: MEL BLANC.” There are two issues. First, in the early days of films, actors were not given screen credit at all. It was Florence Lawrence who was finally given the first screen credit in 1910, which is pretty late. Before that, she was known as “The Biograph Girl.” It is often said that the actors didn’t want their names listed in the films, because it might hurt them working in the theater. The problem is that there wasn’t that much crossover in the early days. Lawrence, for example, never worked on the stage. And getting her name in the credits was a hard negotiation. It wasn’t the producers saying, “Oh, you want your name on the film? Fine!” The same thing went on with Blanc. Warner Bros didn’t want to put any voice actors’ names in the credits. But he was so big a part of their studio that they provided him with the credit.

The other thing is that no one else got screen credit. This greatly added to Blanc’s fame because the implication is that he was doing everyone. And sometimes, that was even true. But in general, there were other actors. I wouldn’t mind so much if the credit were more accurate: “lead voice characterizations” or “head voice actor” or something similar. But I still don’t see why they couldn’t just list all the actors. There weren’t that many in most of the shorts.

I’ve been very interested recently to notice that voice actors can be generally divided into two characters. There are those who are really great like Mel Blanc and most of the people who work on Futurama (most especially Billy West). And then there are those who really aren’t that good. I see this a lot on Bob’s Burgers. Don’t get me wrong: I love that show. But the voices are mostly done by a bunch of comedians who don’t have great control of their voices. When they do other voices, it is generally obvious. They need a larger cast. I would never have known that Bugs Bunny was voiced by the guy who did Daffy Duck.

This is a nice compilation of Blanc’s work, but I’m pretty sure that last Porky Pig is not Mel Blanc. (See what I mean?)

Happy birthday Mel Blanc!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “What’s Up, Mel Blanc?

    • Which is fine! But, for example, I wish that Jon Benjamin didn’t do any voices except Bob on Bob’s Burgers.

      • No “Dr. Katz”? No “Archer”? C’mon, man. Any true H. Jonian accepts “Archer” as canon. At least for the episode where international super-spy Sterling Archer suffers a concussion, has amnesia, and thinks he runs a little family restaurant, complete with a “burger of the day” blackboard. Except that somehow he’s very good at shooting people.

        • I thought I might need to clarify. Those are all just his voice. They are on different shows. Bob and Jimmy Jr are often in the same room. (There’s also an economic aspect to it: he’s stopping other voice actors from working.)

          I was a huge Dr Katz fan. Another is Home Movies. For some reason, I haven’t been able to get into Archer. But I’ll admit, I haven’t spent that much time with it.

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