Wednesday, 11 December 2013

He's Worth $1,400 a Word

We haven’t said an awful lot about Mel Blanc on this blog because it’s been pretty much said elsewhere. He was the greatest cartoon voice actor ever. He amazingly survived a hellacious auto accident in the early ‘60s. He spent his later years encouraging sick kids at Shriners’ hospitals (Blanc was a Shriner) and appearing on talk shows where he gave the equivalent of fish stories—they grew with every telling.

Blanc wasn’t an A-lister in Hollywood so he wasn’t interviewed a lot (aside from when he had his own radio show in the mid-‘40s) until after his accident. But I’ve dug around and found this United Press piece from 1958. At the time, network radio was pretty much dead, so his career consisted of occasional appearances on the Jack Benny TV show, voice work on Warner Bros. cartoons and—most lucrative of them all—commercial voice-overs. He was still telling variations of some of these stories 20 years later.

CARTOON 'VOICE' has Netted $1,400 a Word

HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 19 (UPI)—Mel Blanc, who started out in Hollywood as a drunken bull, has graduated to roles that now pay the veteran voice mimic as much as $1,400 per word.
THE MOON-FACED Blanc has been dubbing voices for many of filmland's top animated cartoons for over 20 years and there's nobody in sight who will take over his chores.
"My first job, after coming here in 1937, was a drunken bull with a hiccough voice," he laughed? Since then, Blanc has been in almost 1,000 pictures.
"I've probably been in more pictures than any other actor," he said.
Blanc has been under contract to Warner Brothers studio for years and has done the majority of the voices for such cartoons as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig.
"While at Warners, we won four or five Oscars for cartoons in which I've performed," he said.
"Many companies have quit making cartoons." he pointed out.
"At Warners we still make 30 a year, but we used to do 50."
WHILE HOLLYWOOD has been cutting down on animated cartoons, "the man with a thousand voices" has been finding plenty of work on television. An especially lucrative field for Blanc is commercials.
Blanc's fee for a fountain pen commercial was only $55 for the original recording but after the plug played throughout the nation for one year, he picked up $7,000 in residual payments.
And his task consisted of saying only five words!
The San Francisco-born Blanc, who was raised in Portland, Ore., credits his knack with voices to his ability to comprehend sounds.
"I attribute it all to having a good ear and hearing myself reproduce," he explained. "I don't like to copy a voice, I'd rather improvise."
ONE OF BLANC'S many voices will be heard on CBS' "Perry Mason" show when he does the voice of a parrot Dec. 20.
Even though his meal ticket is his voice, Blanc doesn't worry too much about it.
"A doctor told me I have tremendous neck muscles," he said. "But I don't exercise them or take any special medicines."
"I don't pamper them either," he concluded, "although I should. They've done an awful lot for me."

Blanc’s parrot voice had some longevity. He may not have originated it on the Jack Benny show, but he used it with some regularity there beginning in 1945 and a variation of it popped up as Salty on the Hanna-Barbera Sinbad cartoons of the mid-‘60s.

Considering all the cartoons I’ve watched over the years, I’d have to say Mel Blanc has given me more laughter than any other person on earth. I’ll bet there are a lot of others who can say the same thing.


  1. Mel's parrot voice also ended up as the voice of the coo-coo clock raven on "The Munsters", which -- other than its occasional appearances in cartoons like "Buccaneer Bunny" is where I first heard it.

    (I believe in 1958, while Mel could do TV commercials, he couldn't do TV cartoons under his WB contract. That seems to have been revised in 1960, which freed Blanc up to do "The Flintstones" and a few voices for the UPA TV cartoons, while freeing Warners up to finally start giving other voice artists screen credit).

  2. J.L., thanks for The Munsters reference. It's been so long since I've seen the show I'd forgotten about it.
    There seems to be a lot of speculation what was in Mel's contract. Certainly in 1943, it wouldn't have mentioned TV cartoons. And, realistically, there were no TV cartoons until the late 50s and, even then, he would have been too expensive.