For generations of children, Mel Blanc was the voice of some of their favorite cartoon characters including Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, the Tasmanian Devil, and Foghorn Leghorn. Blanc would become known as the “Man of 1,000 Voices” and was as in-demand in Hollywood as much as any film star.
A California native, Melvin Jerome Blank (later changed to Blanc) was born in San Francisco in 1908. As a teenager growing up in Portland, Oregon, he joined the Masonic youth fraternity, the Order of DeMolay, Sunnyside Chapter, where, undoubtedly, he gained confidence learning to recite and speak in public.
Blanc always remembered and valued the lessons and friendships that he gained by being a member of DeMolay.
He spoke from the heart in 1966 in a ceremony where he was presented with the DeMolay’s Legion of Honor and in 1987 when his name was added to the DeMolay Hall of Fame. Blanc shared what the organization had meant in his life,”I have been a member of DeMolay for sixty-three years”, Blanc explained before adding, “I thank God and DeMolay for helping me become kind and thoughtful to my parents and all my friends. I had many opportunities to do the wrong things, and I might have done them if it had not been for DeMolay. God bless them."
By the age of 19, Blanc thought his life would be spent in the world of music and he was, perhaps, the youngest conductor of an orchestra in the country, working at the Orpheum Theater in Portland.
Performing came naturally to Mel Blanc and he put his multi-talents to use not only performing in vaudeville but from the late 1920s through the 1950s he performed on radio shows. Beginning in 1946, Mel also had his own radio show called, “The Mel Blanc Show” which ran for one year on the CBS radio network.
Mel was a popular voice actor on many radio shows including creating a variety of characters during the “Golden Age of Radio” on popular radio programs like “The Jack Benny Show”, “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, “Fibber McGee and Molly”, “The Great Gildersleeve” and doing a number of voices on the western radio show “The Cisco Kid”. After a successful radio career, Blanc easily made the transition to television and film and became renowned for his voice work on the animated cartoons from Warner Bros. known as the “Merrie Melodies”. As a vote actor, he enjoyed working with the greats of cartoon animation including Tex Avery and Chuck Jones.
Blanc’s voice talent made him a natural for cartoons. Perhaps, his most famous character was launched when he played a sly, irreverent rabbit known as “Bugs Bunny” for the Warner Bros. Studios.
Over the decades, Blanc did extensive work for Warner Bros. as a contract voice actor but also created cartoon character voices for the Hanna-Barbera studio including Barney Rubble, Fred Flintstone’s sidekick and Cosmo Spacely for the space age cartoon, “The Jetsons”.
The uniqueness of the cartoon characters as part of Blanc’s alter do, may have helped him in recovering from a serious automobile accident. While in the hospital in a coma and in a full body cast, Blanc’s neurologist would talk to his patient and address question to Mel’s characters in order to get him to respond. The physician would speak to Blanc, addressing him as Bugs Bunny or Tweety Bird and, after many tries Blanc would reply to his physician in the voice of the cartoon character! His doctor asked how his patient was doing and Mel responded in his Bugs Bunny voice, “What’s up Doc?”
Blanc was a member of Midday Lodge No.188, Free and Accepted Masons in Portland, Oregon. Although he remained a faithful member throughout his life, Mel Blanc retained active membership in many Masonic organizations. He had taken his degrees in Oregon at Midday Lodge No. 198 and later joined, the Scottish Rite Valley of Los Angeles and became a member of Al Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles. As a Shriner, Blanc spent countless hours entertaining children receiving free medical treatment at the Shriner’s Hospitals – a charity he had held held close to his heart since his youth in Portland.
In a 2013 biography, “Mel Blanc, Man of a Thousand Voices” by Ben Ohhmart, there is a story from Blanc’s boyhood. Blanc is quoted as saying, “When I was teenager, I used to pass by the Portland Shrine Hospital located not far from my parents home. Hearing about the work they did with crippled children was what initially piqued my interest in the fellowship and prompted me to seek admission."
Mel Blanc as a Shriner spent countless hours with the youngsters being treated for orthopedic issues and receiving therapy to heal burns. He was always a favorite with the young patients and could entertain them for hours. After he had recovered from his near fatal car accident, Blanc returned to visiting the kids at the Shrine Hospitals and told friends that he got even more satisfaction than he had before from bringing smiles to the kids undergoing medial treatment. “Going to the Los Angeles Shrine Hospital for the first time since my accident was very emotional for me,” Blanc shared."As I sat talking in Sylvester's voice to a darling little girl, I thanked God for not revoking this undeserved gift."
Mel Blanc passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 77 from heart failure. One of his good friends and Masonic Brothers, Thomas M. Boles, spoke at the funeral. Boles, who served the Grand Lodge of California as Grand Orator in 1998, had also served as Potentate of Al Malaikah Shrine and had developed a deep friendship with fellow Shriner Mel Blanc. Boles who drove a yellow Corvette with the license plate “Tweety” was grateful that Warner Bros. allows him to use the image of the famous cartoon “Tweety Bird” as his mascot during his year as Potentate.
Friendships between Masonic Brothers last through a lifetime and beyond. On the day of Mel Blanc’s funeral, Tom Boles, said his final goodbye to his friend and Masonic Brother and quietly slipped a soft yellow feather into the casket as be bid farewell to Mel Blanc.
Mel Blanc was buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. On his tombstone, his epitaph reads, “That's all folks!”