It's staggering to consider how many generations practically owe their whole childhoods to Mel Blanc, "The Man of a Thousand Voices." Although he's best known as the original voice of Bugs Bunny, that crowning achievement only scratches the surface of how many classic cartoon characters his incredible voice brought to life.
But that doesn't mean the road to the world's undying respect for him was an easy one. Yet when things were at their darkest, it was none other than Bugs Bunny himself who saved Blanc's life.
A natural talent
Born as Melvin Jerome Blank on May 30, 1908, in San Francisco, Blanc spent most of his early years in Portland, Oregon. From a young age, he could mimic voices uncannily well and became a talented musician in his youth as well.
According to Turner Classic Movies, Blanc was able to play the bass, violin, and sousaphone by the time he left Lincoln High School.
A subtle but important change
By the time he set out on his own, Blanc also changed his name because a teacher once told him that a "blank" was all he would grow up to be. Of course, they couldn't have been more wrong.
Yet Blanc's success would come much later as many of his younger years were spent looking for work among the orchestras and vaudeville acts throughout the upper West Coast.
A modest start to his life's work
In 1927, Blanc joined the voice cast of "The Hoots Owl," a radio show based out of Portland's KGW. This opened the door for further stage and radio work, and by 1932, Blanc would take the bigger step of trying to find a home for his talents in Hollywood.
But while the following year of searching yielded few results, Blanc couldn't consider his efforts a waste of time.
Blanc meets the love of his life
While in Los Angeles, Blanc met Estelle Rosenbaum, whom he would marry a year later and who would follow him back to Portland.
There, the couple produced a radio show called Cobweb and Nuts together. Since the show's budget was so small, Blanc couldn't hire many actors and expanded his repertoire enough to voice most of the characters himself.
As Turner Classic Movies outlined, Rosenbaum both knew her husband was talented enough to make it in Hollywood and grew tired of barely scraping by. So she encouraged Blanc to give it another shot.
And this time, Blanc made better inroads and landed work on Los Angeles radio station KFWB's "The Johnny Murray Show" and CBS Radio's "The Joe Penner Show."
A smart move that would change everything
After finding these footholds in 1935, Blanc noticed how competitive radio was becoming and started breaking into the world of film animation.
But while he landed the role of this cat in the Disney movie Pinocchio, Walt Disney himself ended up cutting his part down to some hiccups in the final version.
This led Blanc to turn to Disney's competitor Warner Bros., who had their cartoons supplied by Leon Schlesinger Productions. However, Blanc struggled for over a year to get an audition with the animation company.
But as Entertainment Weekly reported, Blanc didn't let this discourage him, and he returned for another attempt every two weeks until he finally got his foot in the door.
His first Looney Tunes character
When Blanc was brought in front of legendary animators Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Fred "Tex" Avery, and Chuck Jones, he gave them a similar performance to his cut role in Pinocchio.
And unlike the people who blocked him from auditioning before, they liked his audition enough to make him the permanent voice actor for Porky Pig after he proved himself in the short "Picador Porky."
He made these characters his own
The next short Blanc lent his voice to was "Porky's Duck Hunt," which was the debut appearance of Daffy Duck. And everything audiences of all ages came to know about Daffy's vocal traits and personality was entirely Blanc's invention.
And while Porky Pig already had his famous stutter by the time Blanc entered the picture, the voice actor did come up with his signature sign-off, "Th-th-that's all, folks!"
Blanc's reputation grew
Starting in 1939 and going into the '40s, Blanc became a regular performer on Jack Benny's top-rated radio show, playing multiple characters and even providing the sputtering sound effects for Benny's car.
Blanc would later periodically join Benny on his TV show as well. But the comedian wasn't the only luminary of his era to feature the Man of 1,000 Voices.
Beloved comedian George Burns and his partner in business and life Gracie Allen featured Blanc on their radio show, as did the legendary duo Abbott and Costello.
From 1946 to 1947, Blanc would even get his own show on CBS Radio, short-lived as it was. But his biggest contribution to entertainment history was back in the animation world.
The birth of Bugs Bunny
In 1940, animators on the Warner Bros. lot showed Blanc rough sketches for a new character they had initially called Happy Rabbit.
He was supposed to be as wise-cracking, mischievous, and fond of carrots as he is today, but a couple of things were missing, and only Blanc could have added them.
What made Bugs a star
Before he voiced a single line, Blanc suggested changing the character's name to the now-iconic Bugs Bunny. And as he did with Daffy Duck, Blanc came up with Bugs's entire vocal characterization.
Blanc's unique hybrid of New York accents made Bugs stand out by the very first time he uttered his signature line, "What's up, Doc?"
The characters just kept coming
Between the 1940as and the '50s, Blanc would juggle his radio work with his commitments to Warner Bros. at a hectic pace. And in a stream of seemingly endless creativity, he would grant each new character a distinct personality.
Tweety's child-like innocence, Pepé le Pew's lecherousness, Marvin the Martian's neuroticism, and Foghorn Leghorn's boisterousness all came from Blanc's mind.
Some characters were easier to voice than others
According to Turner Classic Movies, Blanc considered Yosemite Sam the hardest character to voice simply because the foul-tempered Bugs Bunny antagonist put the most strain on his throat.
Similarly, Blanc joked that his fellow voice actors needed to wear raincoats from all the spit his lisping cartoon cat Sylvester produced.
Not the only way he made history
Blanc's essential contributions to these characters — and thereby Warner Bros.' success — were not lost on him. So in 1944, he petitioned Leon Schlesinger for a raise.
Schlesinger refused to up Blanc's pay, but the two men reached a compromise in the ensuing negotiations. For the first time in the industry, Blanc would receive a "vocal characterizations by" credit that served as an important step in recognizing voice actors for their work.
Blanc's star rose even higher
Although Blanc would continue bringing his personal touch to Warner Bros., he saw even more voice acting opportunities arise after his exclusive contract with the studio expired in 1960.
This led him to find work at the competing Hanna-Barbara Studios, which became a viable enterprise after the success of The Flintstones. Blanc voiced Fred Flintstone's neighbor Barney Rubble.
Tragedy suddenly strikes
As Entertainment Weekly reported, Blanc was driving his sports car on Sunset Boulevard when a college student crashed into him.
By the time Blanc got to the hospital, almost every bone in his body was broken. To make matters even worse, he was in a coma.
A longshot for a sign of life
According to Entertainment Weekly, brain surgeons struggled to find any signs of life in Blanc. He wouldn't respond to them calling his name, and Noel didn't see any difference when he asked his dad if he could hear him.
But since the television above Blanc's bed was playing a Looney Tunes cartoon, doctors thought of asking Blanc, "Bugs, can you hear me?"
Bugs Bunny had become such a huge part of his life
And when the doctors made this pivot, Blanc showed them he had a chance at recovery by responding, "Yeah, what's up Doc?" in the appropriate voice.
According to Turner Classic Movies, Blanc had his bedroom converted to a makeshift studio once he had recovered enough to return home. Here, he can be seen recording his lines for The Flintstones alongside co-stars Bea Benaderet and Jean Vander Pyl.
He came back busier than ever
As the '60s lurched into the '70s, Blanc worked similar magic for Hanna-Barbera that he had for Warner Bros. in the '40s.
As the years went on, he added Secret Squirrel, Speed Buggy, and George Jetson's boss Mr. Spacely to his already robust repertoire. And his workaholic schedule also took him elsewhere.
In addition to his work with the two studios, Blanc also lent his voice to the live-action TV show Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, where he voiced a small robot named Twiki.
He also started to voice cartoon characters in commercials, the most famous example of which was Froot Loops' mascot, Toucan Sam.
He eventually noticed a change
There was scarcely a period in Blanc's life since his career began when he wasn't busy, but Blanc found it harder to summon the same enthusiasm for the animation world that he once had.
According to Turner Classic Movies, he became disappointed at the quality of many of the new cartoons that ruled the airwaves during the 1980s.
One last character to bring to life
However, even that disappointing period saw at least one animated series that attracted Blanc's interest.
In 1980, Ruby-Spears Productions launched an animated adaptation of the comic Heathcliff, and Blanc lent his voice to the title role. He would then reprise the role in another animation studio's 1984 version.
Winding things down
Although Blanc remained dedicated to his craft to the very end, it was clear to him by the '80s that it was time to prepare for the end of his road.
So according to Turner Classic Movies, he turned over some of his more demanding roles, like Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn, to other voice actors while preparing Noel to follow in his footsteps.
A final hurrah in a modern classic
However, Blanc would still have time for one last project, which would turn out to be one of the greatest of his career.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a masterpiece of technological innovation and storytelling that wouldn't have been complete without Blanc voicing Bugs, Tweety, and Daffy one last time.
Of course, the fact that Disney's signature characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were also involved meant that Walt Disney's Touchstone Pictures would end up releasing the film.
So despite Disney's earlier intervention in Pinocchio, Blanc would finally be able to truly lend his voice to one of the company's productions.
A sudden fate
One year after Who Framed Roger Rabbit's release, Blanc and Noel collaborated on a TV commercial. But shortly after this ad was filmed, Blanc suffered a stroke.
On July 10, 1989, Blac passed away in Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 81. He was survived by Rosenbaum and his son.
A touching tribute
While Blanc's contributions to the animation world were an inspiration to voice actors for generations to come, Warner Bros. especially owed the personalities of most of their most iconic characters to him.
In honor of the legend, Warner Bros. artist Darrell Van Citters created a solemn tribute featuring the characters he brought to life. It was simply titled "Speechless."
Blanc's last laugh
However, it seemed Blanc himself wanted to treat even his passing with a slightly comedic touch.
So while his headstone venerated his talents and expressed how much his family adored him, this final "That's all, folks" showed the kind of instincts that made him such an unforgettable presence in show business.