Great talents seem to embody their craft. It’s as if they invented the form and then broke the mold when they were finished with it.
One of the best modern examples of this virtuosity is Mel Blanc, voice of Bugs Bunny and nearly all of the Looney Tunes cartoon gang. Blanc, who voiced more than 1,000 characters, was famously hard-working. At one point in his career, he scrambled from studio to studio around Los Angeles to work on 18 radio shows in one week.
As Malcolm Gladwell likes to say, that kind of practice leads to mastery. And, in Mel Blanc’s case, it may have saved his life.
Radio Lab, broadcast over WNYC, recently aired a piece about Blanc (listen below) featuring an interview with his son Noel Blanc, who is also a voice actor. Noel Blanc tells the story of a terrible car accident that badly injured his father in 1961 as he was driving home along Sunset Boulevard from a job in San Francisco. Mel Blanc, driving an Aston Martin, collided with another car on Dead Man’s Curve. Blanc was almost killed and slipped into a coma. Blanc’s son and wife spent two weeks at his bedside trying to revive him, but got no response.
One day, about 14 days after the accident, one of Blanc’s neurologists walked into the room and tried something completely new. He went to Mel’s bed and asked, “Bugs Bunny, how are you doing today?”
There was a pause while people in the room just shook their heads. Then, in a weak voice, came the response anyone would recognize.
“Myeeeeh. What’s up doc?”
The doctor then asked Tweety if he was there too.
“I tot I taw a puddy tat,” was the reply.
It took seven more months in a body cast for Blanc to recover. He even voiced Barney Rubble in the first episodes of The Flintstones while lying in bed with a microphone dangling from above.
The Radio Lab piece includes excerpts from an episode of This is Your Life when Blanc’s doctor tried to explain how he revived his patient. “It seemed like Bugs Bunny was trying to save his life,” was all he could say.
Radio Lab features another neurologist’s opinion: Blanc was such a hard-working professional that his characters lived, protected from the brain injury, deep in his unconscious mind. The doctor’s question must have sounded like a director’s cue.
Essentially, “Mr. Blanc, you’re on.”
And he was, until 1989. Listen through to the end of the podcast. The end of Blanc’s life is as remarkable as his long career.
Below, we have added a related documentary, Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices.
Kate Rix writes about education and digital media. Visit her website to see more of her work. Follow her on Twitter: @mskaterix.
Great story Ms Rix!
I’ve always thought the two gold-plated names in animation history were Mel Blanc and Carl Stalling. While of course this documentary was about Blanc and very well done, there should have been at least a smidgeon of a mention of Stalling, the other genius who cranked out a score a week for how many decades I can’t remember. To have those two powering your cartoons was a god send, literally.
My first foray into Open Culture and was absolutely wonderful!!!! Fabulous story and look forward to the documentary later. Thank you, thank you, thank you..
This is a circumstance similar to what Ive experienced with forest sciences/trees. After loosing my ability to speak following multiple ictal seizures.
My ability to speak has been regained following approximately 2 years of being able to obtain only aboriculture commentary with latin nominclature of plant identification being able to speak. and um um profanity.
Well I speak alot more about plants and nature far more often, my vocabulary is seeming to repair over time with a lot of effort.
Brain Plasticity is the concept, maybe.
I just finished watching the 1001 rabbit tails we were cracking up as usual, but my sister and i, we watch it the correct way , we get our pumpkin seeds and our really red wine, and we sit in the living room and we just be rolling, one time we were watching 1001, and just cracking up, my husband came down stairs looked at us turned around and went back upstairs, so thank you mel, and i know daffy gotta be black, he he gotta be.
Thanks for the research for this story. It was fascinating, enjoyable, and sad.
terrific story !
Now thats a great story!!! Thanks!
That’s a great story! I never knew the man behind the voice.
Oh yes! What a talent. I knew the crazy characters, I knew the name, I just didn’t know the man. Fantastic insight into his amazing work. In fact I will give top credit to the whole Looney Toons family and Mel for the laughter they have bought into our lives. I grew up watching these shows back in Nigeria. All I need now is where to get box sets of these wonderful Looney shows. Top marks!!
Mel’s voices in Looney toons were a big part if my life growing up. Saturday morning cartoons…. Wow….I wouldn’t leave the house on Sat mornings til I saw his famous characters. Noone can take his place.cartoons have changed,lost the innocence they once had. Mel..You’re the best