Daffy Duck. Porky Pig. Bugs Bunny. Woody Woodpecker. Pepe Le Pew. Yosemite Sam. Mr. Spacely. Tweety Bird. Sylvester the Cat. Foghorn Leghorn. Marvin the Martian. Speedy Gonzalez. The Tasmanian Devil. Barney Rubble. Dino the Dinosaur. Heathcliff. What do those sixteen cartoon characters have in common? Their voices: each one was performed by Mel Blanc, pictured above. And one of them he credited with saving his life.
Blanc was born in 1908 and made his way into voice work before his teenage years were out, landing a job at a Portland, Oregon radio station in 1927. By 1935, he had made his way to Hollywood, landing a job at radio station there owned by Warner Brothers. Warner had just begun its animated cartoons business a few years earlier, and had its first real successful character in Porky Pig in the same year that Blanc joined the Warner radio station. Two years later, Blanc took over voice acting duties for Porky, and continued performing the character until his death in 1989. Along the way, Blanc picked up dozens of other characters — including Bugs Bunny.
In 1961, Bugs would save Blanc’s life. On January 24th of that year, Blanc was in a head-on car crash which caused his skull to fracture in three places, fractured both his legs and his pelvis, and sent him into a coma. After roughly two weeks of trying to get Blanc to communicate, doctors were finding little success. A doctor took an unconventional approach, for reasons unknown, and asked the incapacitated Blanc, “How are you today, Bugs Bunny?” Blanc replied — using Bugs’ voice. He’d recover from the coma a week or so later as doctors were able to communicate with him, using Bugs Bunny as a bridge to Blanc’s consciousness. In his autobiography, Blanc credits the breakthrough — and Bugs Bunny specifically — for bringing him out of the coma.
Blanc was bedridden for a few weeks afterward. But his voice work was so valuable that Warner brought the studio to him, allowing him recuperate from the physical injuries over the course of the year.
Bonus fact: Porky Pig is probably most famous for two things: first, he stutters; and second, he has a catch phrase, “That’s All Folks!,” which is used to close episodes of Looney Tunes. Both of these features have a role in Blanc’s life. Porky’s original voice actor was a man named Joe Dougherty, who spoke with a stutter. While the stutter worked comedically, it meant that Dougherty’s recording sessions were very long, and prohibitively expensive, so he was replaced by Blanc (who retained the character’s stutter in a controlled fashion). As for the catch phrase? Mel Blanc’s tombstone, seen here, is adorned with it, upon Blanc’s request.
From the Archives: Behind the Music: The story of another famous voice — but in this case, with a not-so-famous owner.
Related: “That’s not all Folks!,” by Mel Blanc with Philip Bashe — Blanc’s autobiography. Eight reviews, four stars on average, but sadly not available on Kindle.