Oregon Cartoon Institute

They Might Be Giants: Basil Wolverton Draws Mel Blanc

In News on April 21, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Cartoonist Monte Wolverton generously sent in these wonderful cartoon portraits of Mel Blanc drawn by his father, Basil Wolverton, in 1934, the year before Mel Blanc left Portland for Hollywood.  Wittingly or unwittingly, they document Mel Blanc’s own concept of the secret of his success: being a good listener.

The huge ears Basil gave Mel match up with Mel’s own description of the most essential ingredient to a voice artist’s success, a trained ear.

Basil Wolverton (1909-1978), was Mel Blanc’s contemporary in Portland. Both men drew paychecks from the Oregonian. Mel Blanc’s work on radio program KGW Hoot Owls was paid for by The Oregonian. Basil Wolverton worked as a cartoonist for The Oregonian.

KEX radio was an affiliate of KGW, and as such was located directly across the hall from the very room in the Oregonian Tower where Mel Blanc had gotten his start in 1927 performing with KGW’s immensely popular Hoot Owls.

KGW’s Hoot Owls broadcast one 90 minute long live show once a week from 1923 to 1933. KEX’s Cobwebs and Nuts, which ran from 1933 to 1935, was 60 minutes long and was broadcast live six days a week. It had a staff of two, Mel and Estelle Blanc, and a payroll of one: Mel Blanc.

This grueling schedule, combined with low pay, pushed Mel Blanc out of Portland.

Pay or no pay, Portland radio listeners knew exactly how talented Mel Blanc was. By 1930, he was a local celebrity, known as “the man with the wee mustache”.

From Blanc’s autobiography:

From then on, loyal fans began materializing just before airtime, setting up folding chairs right there in the studio. Before long, we had spectators nightly, adding to the show’s anarchic, anything-can-happen appeal.

To maintain audience interest six hours a week, I had to come up with countless voices and must have multiplied my repertoire every month. More and more, I relied on the improvisational skills I’d first cultivated on The Hoot Owls.

Thank you, Monte, for these wonderful portraits!

More information about the parallel career of Basil Wolverton, an Oregon cartooning genius who was Mel Blanc’s exact contemporary, see www.wolvertoon.com.

=============================================================

The Mel Blanc Project  was a series of public history/art education events made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

For more information about Mel Blanc, see the Archives of this website.

“Despite what some might term the “frivolous” nature of my job, I consider myself an artist, and cartoons, art.” Mel Blanc

Intermediate Guide To Mel Blanc

In News on January 14, 2012 at 6:06 am

For those who have progressed beyond the Beginner’s Guide To Mel Blanc, here are some of the books we can recommend for deepening your Mel Blanc knowledge.

That’s Not All Folks: The Story Of Mel Blanc, by Mel Blanc and Philip Bashe

Mel Blanc covers his early Portland years, his breakthrough at Warner Brothers, his long radio career, his volunteer efforts during WWII, the automobile crash which nearly ended his life, and his transition to television animation. He leaves out mention of scandal and/or discord in his private life, most probably because there wasn’t any, as all sources seem to agree.

Portland In Three Centuries: The Place and The People, by Carl Abbott

 Mel Blanc’s autobiography contains every sign that he was quite engaged with current events.  He sold newspapers as a child on street corners, tuned into far away radio news programs as a teenager, and commented on the news in his comedy routines as an adult. His audition piece for Warner Brothers was a riff on the news, using many voices and accents. It is unlikely that he remained oblivious to political and social tensions of his own city as he was growing up. Carl Abbott’s book is a clear, concise portrait of the Rose City.
.

Pioneer Mikes: A History of Radio and Television in Oregon, by Ronald Kramer

This is the book which will elevate you from Beginner Level to Intermediate Level Mel Blanc knowledge in a jiffy. Kramer devotes an entire chapter to the Hoot Owls, the extraordinary group of Jazz Age Portland businessmen who, in exploring a new medium, helped invent the radio variety show. This group of first adopters, who were also amateur entertainers, tapped a young gifted Portland teenager for their show, and in so doing, launched the career of the Man With A Thousand Voices.

The Jews Of Oregon, 1850 – 1950 by Steven Lowenstein

Portland is a city German Jewish pioneers helped found and govern. But the South Portland neighborhood, during the period of time Mel Blanc grew up there, was a community of new immigrants, including many Jews from Eastern Europe. Neighborhood House, where he learned to play the violin, was a settlement house run by Portland’s established German Jewish community as a support to the newcomers. Lowenstein fills his book with archival photos and eyewitness accounts.

The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, by Robert Johnston

Robert Johnston does a precinct by precinct analysis of Portland’s voting records at the beginning of the 20th century, and comes up with some questions. Where do we find the line between working class and middle class? Is there one? Frederick and Eva Blank, Mel Blanc’s parents, moved to Portland in 1915, in the middle of what Johnston finds to be an unusually populist era. They themselves were shopkeepers, members of the petite bourgeoisie he puts under the microscope.

Johnston doesn’t address the possibility of a relationship between Portland’s populism and the Mel Blanc’s pop artistry in his book. But he generously has agreed to sit down and explore the topic in conversation.

And you are invited!

=============================================================

The Mel Blanc Project  is a series of public history/art education events made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

For more information about Mel Blanc, see the Archives of this website.

“Despite what some might term the “frivolous” nature of my job, I consider myself an artist, and cartoons, art.” Mel Blanc

Gus Frederick Announces the Homer Davenport Project

In News on January 14, 2012 at 6:06 am

Mel Blanc is one of Oregon’s most tremendous pop culture stars. But he is not the first.

That honor goes to Homer Davenport, a political cartoonist for Hearst newspapers.

Born and raised in Silverton, Oregon, Homer Davenport began working for the San Francisco Examiner in 1892. Three years later, Hearst transferred him to The Evening Mail in New York. Davenport’s cartoons proved so influential and effective that a bill was brought before the New York State Senate to outlaw them.

This cartoon, which caricatured New York State Senator ( R )  Thomas Collier Platt and William M. “Boss” Tweed, was titled “No Honest Man Need Fear Cartoons”.

Gus Frederick, long active in Silverton’s historical society, followed the Mel Blanc Project events with interest, thinking that Homer Davenport deserved similar celebration.

Oregon Cartoon Institute could not be in greater agreement with this assessment.

All inquiries about the Homer Davenport Project should be directed to the Davenport Project website.

For a wonderfully lively and detailed appreciation of Homer Davenport’s life, see Walt Curtis’ biographical sketch, written as a foreword to a 2002 edition of Davenport’s book,  A Country Boy.

For a capsule summary of his life, see the 1912 New York Times obituary.

=============================================================

The Mel Blanc Project  is a series of public history/art education events made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

For more information about Mel Blanc, see the Archives of this website.

“Despite what some might term the “frivolous” nature of my job, I consider myself an artist, and cartoons, art.” Mel Blanc

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.