Mel Blanc
By: Mark Kingwell | Categories: HiLo Heroes

blanc

What tribute to the comic vocal genius MEL BLANC (Melvin Jerome Blank, 1908–89) is more appropriate than this: he created and gave distinctive life to, among others, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety Bird, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, the Tasmanian Devil, Woody Woodpecker, Barney Rubble, and Marvin the Martian. His own blunt, odd name would appear on-screen every Saturday evening in my suburban home, the smell of frying hamburgers sealing a memory of idle schoolboy happiness in the heart of the weekend. It helped that the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons were pioneering hilo TV, effortlessly folding in elements that my father enjoyed from the same living-room couch: political in-jokes, parodies of high culture, and lots of elastic violence. Blanc’s early radio work, including regular contributions to The Jack Benny Show, eventually led to a long career of contracts with Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera, and various movie deals. Blanc was a savvy negotiator, the first voice actor to get that dedicated screen credit I remember so well. I wonder if this “Man of a Thousand Voices” knew that he bestowed another gift on the universe, namely a schoolyard appreciation for stutters, lisps, and vocal tics that might otherwise prompt a bully’s taunt. A lifelong smoker, he succumbed to emphysema and coronary artery disease at 81. At his own insistence, his gravestone bears Porky the Pig’s famous farewell: “THAT’S ALL FOLKS.”

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Cee-Lo Green, Countee Cullen, Randolph Bourne, Mikhail Bakunin, Howard Hawks, Agnès Varda, Roberto Calasso.

READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).

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Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto.