Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Voice Acting Tips From Mel Blanc

Mel Blanc needs no introduction, does he?

Here he is talking to the King Features Syndicate in a column published starting July 7, 1960. You’ll have to forgive the writer misspelling “Daws Butler” and “Paul Frees.”

It’s interesting there’s no reference to The Flintstones. I don’t know when the interview was conducted but Variety reported in May that Mel was working on the series. By November, he and Johnny Burton had joined together to form IDs Inc. to work with ad agencies on commercials.

The giraffe story he tells isn’t verbatim dialogue from the Benny radio show, but the gag’s the same.

Hear Voices? Fire a Blanc

Special Press Writer
IN HOLLYWOOD the mailman is known as the “residual man” to the big four in the voice business: Mel Blanc, Jim Backus, Dawes Butler and Paul Freeze.
Hardly a day goes by that Mel, who is best known as the voice of Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, doesn't get a residual check in the mail. Backus and Blanc also survive visually in the trade, with Jim playing in pictures and on TV, and Blanc appearing at least once a month on the Sunday night Jack Benny show.
Residuals come from radio and TV commercials of all sorts; for instance, Mel will open envelopes with checks in payment for his voice doing the “Piggy back refill” bit, or plugging tamales, cookies and other tidbits in various accents.
He does so well that he is constantly plagiarized by others. When calls go out for voices the question is usually, “Do you want a Mel Blanc voice?”
There is nothing Mel can do about this. We have no legislation protecting original voices and characters, but Mel survives nicely.
The good thing about it, is that others try to do a Mel Blanc type voice and they miss, so Mel is called in to redo it. Blanc first made his name in Hollywood with his animal voices. He's won five Oscars for being Bugs Bunny, Speedy Gonzales, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam.
He says his Woody Woodpecker is understood everywhere, and as for Bugs, “why others may come and go, but Bugs will be around forever.”
This fall Mel, as the voice of Bugs, will be bucking Wagon Train, and Mel thinks it will be a walkaway in the ratings for the cocky rabbit. He's also going to do voices for The Three Stooges show, which will have a weekly five minute animation sequence, besides his Jack Benny Show.
When Mel joined Benny he was known only for his animal sounds. He was hired to play Carmichael the boar, and just growl. This went on for some time and finally, Mel pleaded, “All I do is growl, Jack. Give me a couple of lines.”
Benny agreed and Blanc began playing idiot professors, carpenters and insulting salesmen.
He had Benny on the floor with his version of a giraffe.
Not a sound came out of Blanc because giraffes don't have any vocal chords. "What are you doing?" asked straight man Benny. “I'm making a noise like a giraffe,” said Blanc.
To be a good voice man means that you have to have a good ear and you have to listen.
For example, Blanc says he's a big star in China for his Chinese characters. “They can't understand what I'm saying, but they laugh at the voice,” he says. To pick up the right sounds, Blanc took his shirts to a Chinese laundryman and listened to him jabber.
The character Speedy Gonzales came from a Mexican who was building a house nearby. Mel sat around and listened to his rhythm and then went home and practiced. “All you need is a start,” he says. “This aptitude isn't inherited. You listen, then hear it in your head, and then hear yourself doing it.”
To make the dialects funny, Mel, once he has the general ring of it, will sacrifice the dialect to bring a point across, and this is where he gets his laughs. All this sounds fairly simple, but there are only a few besides the big four who do make a good living using just their voices.
Many actors have tried the voice business, but they are not successful. Maybe they don't spend enough time practicing after listening.
To give enthusiasts further incentive, Blanc's workweek should be described. He's at some studio three or four days a week on an average. There he puts in maybe four hours, which is a big day.
Ten years ago it used to take a day and a half for the present four-hour stint. Equipment and Blanc are just that much better now.
For instance; in making The Three Stooges pilot, which contains five minutes of animation, using the Blanc method, Mel, the Stooges and the crew were finished in just half the time expected.
“We just took one line at a time,” said Mel. “We'd say it until we got the right emphasis on a word and then go on. This was brand new to the comics, but they got the idea. We breezed through it.”
Blanc has one other claim to notoriety. He's the new mayor of Pacific Palisades, a suburban community near Los Angeles, and this job is hard on him because he has to make speeches. “I prefer to listen says Blanc, a new type of politician.”


  1. The Three Stooges Scrapbook unfortunately never made it to series.

  2. Some noted mispelling (Dawes..Freeze) the time of the article Mel's best cartoons were largely history, as the article came when the Warner cartoon characters had become more and more one-dimensional (save the then forthcoming "From Hare to Heir".) Maybe the Flintstones wasn't "adult" enough as the Warner cartoons? SC