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