Today is the birthday (1908) of Mel Blanc (born Mervin Jerome Blank), the vocal artist who provided the voices for a vast array of Warner Brothers’ cartoon characters, such as Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the cat, Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales, Tasmanian Devil, Pepé LePew, Marvin the Martian and Yosemite Sam. Blanc also voiced dozens of Hanna-Barbera characters, starting in 1960 with Barney Rubble of The Flintstones.
Blanc was born in San Francisco, California, the younger of two children. He grew up in the neighborhood of Western Addition in San Francisco, and later in Portland, Oregon, where he attended Lincoln High School. Growing up, he had a fondness for voices and dialect, which he began voicing at the age of ten. He claimed when he was sixteen he changed the spelling from “Blank” to “Blanc,” because a teacher told him that he would amount to nothing and be like his name, a “blank.” He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and split his time between leading an orchestra, becoming the youngest conductor in the country at the age of 17, and performing shtick in vaudeville shows around Washington, Oregon, and northern California.
Blanc began his radio career in 1927 as a voice actor on the KGW program The Hoot Owls, where his ability to provide voices for multiple characters first attracted attention. He moved to Los Angeles in 1932, where he met Estelle Rosenbaum, whom he married a year later, before returning to Portland. He moved to KEX in 1933 to produce and co-host his Cobweb And Nuts show with his wife Estelle, which debuted on June 15.
Blanc returned to Los Angeles and joined Warner Brothers owned KFWB in Hollywood, California, in 1935. He joined The Johnny Murray Show, but the following year switched to CBS Radio and The Joe Penner Show. Blanc was a regular on the NBC Red Network show The Jack Benny Program in various roles, including voicing Benny’s Maxwell automobile (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. The first role came from a mishap when the recording of the automobile’s sounds failed to play on cue, prompting Blanc to take the microphone and improvise the sounds himself. The audience reacted so positively that Benny decided to dispense with the recording altogether and have Blanc continue in that role. 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 audience always laughed, thanks to the comedic timing of Blanc and Benny.
In March 1937, Mel Blanc joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, which made animated cartoons distributed by Warner Brothers. After sound man Treg Brown was put in charge of cartoon voices, and Carl Stalling became music director, Brown introduced Blanc to animation directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Frank Tashlin, who loved his voices. The first cartoon Blanc worked on was “Picador Porky” as the voice of a drunken bull. He replaced Joe Dougherty as Porky Pig’s voice in “Porky’s Duck Hunt,” which marked the debut of Daffy Duck, also voiced by Blanc.
Blanc soon became noted for voicing a wide variety of cartoon characters from Looney Tunes, adding Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Pepé Le Pew and many others.
Blanc continued to voice his classic characters, and invent new ones, in cartoons, shorts, and movies almost up to his death in 1989, including a period in 1961 when he was in a full body cast following a near fatal head on car crash in Los Angeles. The sound crew came to his hospital room along with the other voice artists. As he got older, though, he passed off the yelling characters, such as Yosemite Sam and Tasmanian Devil, to other artists, including his son, Noel, who ghosted for him but never took up voice acting as a profession. Blanc’s tombstone has the epitaph “That’s All Folks!”
His character Bugs Bunny always ate carrots, and when Blanc would bite into a carrot he would quickly spit it out into a spittoon before voicing the lines. It became spread about because of this that he was allergic to carrots. But Blanc always denied this. The spitting was just so that he could get the lines out. Nonetheless a carrot recipe seems appropriate. I am a big fan of soups, and also love the combination of carrots and fresh ginger. So here is a blended carrot and ginger soup.
Carrot and Ginger Soup
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ lbs (675 g) carrots, peeled and diced
2 cups chopped onion
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (powered can be substituted but it does not work well)
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
3 large strips of zest of orange
chopped chives and parsley for garnish (or cilantro if you prefer)
Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat and cook the onions and carrot, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not let the onions or carrots brown. Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt over the carrots and onions as they cook.
Add the stock and water, the ginger, and the strips of orange zest. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the carrots soften, about 20 minutes.
Working in small batches, pour the soup into a blender and purée until completely smooth. Add more salt to taste.
Garnish with chopped chives and parsley (or cilantro).