Oregon Cartoon Institute

Posts Tagged ‘Bugs Bunny’

Mel Blanc, Music Educator

In News on August 31, 2011 at 3:31 am


Heather Perkins was the first person to point out to us that Mel Blanc was first and foremost a musician. As we journeyed through preparations for the Mel Blanc Project, we came to understand how profoundly true this observation was.

Mel Blanc was first trained as a musician. He first performed as a musician. He was first discovered in Portland playing with a band. He supported himself in Portland as musician. He was discovered at Warner Brothers by a fellow musician.

Last week, WNYC’s John Schaefer wrote that ,

….like many American kids, my first experience of an orchestra and a conductor was through cartoons, specifically through Bugs Bunny cartoons. As a kid, I had no idea what “The Rabbit of Seville” or “What’s Opera Doc” were parodying.  When I got older and first heard Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Wagner’s cycle of Ring operas, I experienced that shock of recognition – “oh, that’s where that Bugs Bunny music comes from!” – which would become a recurring theme in my listening life. 

From the Great American Songbook, small combo jazz by Raymond Scott, tone poems by Mendelssohn… over the years I would listen to these very different types of music only to realize I’d heard them before. 

In Bugs Bunny cartoons!

When I mention this to people, I am no longer surprised when the response is “that happens to me all the time too!”

If you would like to stretch your musical horizons in ways other than watching Warner Brothers cartoons, on Sept. 9 & 10. at the Hollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon, Heather Perkins, the aforementioned originator of Oregon Cartoon Institute‘s Mel Blanc Project, will perform a live soundtrack to a rare screening of Starman: The Evil Brain From Space, a 1950’s Japanese TV special.

From the press release:

For this special performance, Perkins is pulling out all the stops. “I will be moving a version of my entire studio into the theater,” she says, “so I am basically building a huge new instrument with many heads, each with evil brains of their own.” As the film plays behind her, Perkins will work magic on her eclectic array of gadgetry – perhaps a Vocoder for the Evil Brain sound or some keyboard blips for gunbursts, and definitely a Waterphone to get the show started. A liquid-filled brass instrument, the Waterphone produces “a sound you have heard a million times maybe without knowing what it was,” Perkins explains. “It can sound evocative if played right, but one false move and it sounds truly screechingly awful.  I’m not sure which outcome to hope for, honestly.”

Here’s another musical Portlander, this time repurposing Rossni:


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


Happy Birthday, Bugs!

In News on July 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Mel Blanc had been at Termite Terrace for three years when he, Ben Hardaway, Frank Tashlin, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett collectively gave birth to a wisecracking rabbit who loved to outwit, and, more than occasionally, smooch, his enemies.

A Wild Hare opened on July 27, 1940.

“Who were the leading men of the early  1940’s? Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney. Bugs possessed Gable’s impertinence,

Bogart’s coolheadedness,

and Cagney’s New York bred toughness.

We cheer him on because he has the moxie to say and to do what he wants. If only we were so dauntless. To top it off, he gets away with it. Bugs Bunny appeals to the rebel in all of us.” Mel Blanc in That’s Not All, Folks!:

Happy birthday, Bugs!


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

Katie Schneider Nails Mel Blanc’s Portland Years

In News on July 14, 2011 at 3:25 pm

In this beautifully written article for Tablet, Portland author Katie Schneider reports on her visit to Oregon Jewish Museum’s current exhibit That’s All Folks! The Mel Blanc Story. As she walks the reader through Mel Blanc’s early life, Schneider uses her novelist’s eye for detail to pick out the milestones which also served as touchstones of Jewish identity.

His first foray into voice artistry:

Among the first people (six year old Mel Blank) befriended were the elderly Jewish couple who ran the local grocery; they spoke Yiddish, and the boy became fascinated with the strange dialect and its intonations. He learned to imitate it. It was, by his own admission, the first voice he ever performed.

His first time on stage:

Some of his earliest gigs were with the South Parkway Minstrels, an amateur vaudeville club in Portland. The Minstrels were part of Neighborhood House, founded by the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women to help South Portland’s immigrants.

Getting married:

He married Estelle Rosenbaum in a secret civil ceremony before finally having a Jewish wedding on Lag B’Omer.

His Warner Brothers breakthrough:

Leon Schlesinger, Warner’s head of animation, asked him to voice one of the studio’s newest animated stars, a bow-tie wearing pig named Porky.  “You want me to be the voice of a pig?” Blanc replied. “That’s some job for a nice Jewish boy.”

His most famous creative achievement, Bugs Bunny:

When Blanc came on board, the famous hare was named “Happy Rabbit.” That, Blanc believed, was too bland. The bunny needed personality, and that personality, in Blanc’s mind, took the shape of a fast-talking tough Jew from Flatbush Avenue.

A fast talking tough Jew from Flatbush Avenue who had never actually set foot in New York, that is. Mel Blanc writes in his book that as a young man he longed to travel to New York, but that he never had the bus fare.

He did make it to LA. Schneider quotes Judy Margles’ observation that Mel Blanc’s journey, from South Portland to Southern California, “mirrored the life of the Jewish community Portland at the time, spanning tradition and assimilation. He was like his friends. They wanted to get out. They wanted to be part of the larger world.”

This tension, between tradition and assimilation, is one of the engines which drove Mel Blanc’s creativity. What does it mean to be a Jew in the West? How do we construct our identities? How much of the past comes with us into the future?  What is essential? Who decides?

I believe Mel Blanc’s engagement with these deeper questions is the source of his strength as an artist. His early life in a multilingual immigrant community provided the seedbed for this lifelong fascination. But questions which deal with identity are not limited to the Jewish community. These are questions all Americans explore. We are a nation of immigrants.

The essence of our national character is that it doesn’t know itself, that it has no core — that it consists of one long negotiation between heterogeneous elements that resist synthesis.  That is, of course, what makes American culture so alive and dynamic and fertile — its improvisatory nature, its fundamental instability, which is also a fundamental openness to anything. Lloyd Fonvielle

Is there a better description of Mel Blanc’s stable of voice characterizations, from wide eyed Tweety Bird to bombastic Foghorn Leghorn, from perpetually enraged Daffy Duck to perpetually bewildered Barney Rubble, from hungry Wile Coyote to amorous Pepe LePew to good natured Porky to “ain’t I a stinker” Bugs, than “one long negotiation between heterogeneous elements that resist synthesis” ?

Fonvielle, himself a Hollywood screenwriter, goes on to defend pop culture as a crucible of American identity, particularly when it comes to the pleasures and the responsibilities of freedom.

Liberty, in a political sense, would have no “legs”, would close on Saturday night, if it weren’t reflected in this liberty of the everyday imagination — and this liberty of the imagination could probably not have survived if we were required to take it too seriously, to think it through . . . if it weren’t dressed up in shameless, unadulterated hokum.

Do  Americans use pop culture to wrestle with/explore/come to our own understanding of “e pluribus unum” ?

Jon Stewart seems to think so.

Plurality is at the heart of the American promise of freedom. We don’t all have to be the same. A natural consequence – we have to live with the conflicts and tensions which come with difference. Freedom is no free lunch.

Freedom, it turns out, is a long slog.

That’s where comedy comes in. Katie Schneider identifies herself as having been “raised on Warner Brothers cartoons.” Lloyd Fonvielle’s argument takes that claim seriously.

Thank you, Katie Schneider, for your guided tour of  the Oregon Jewish Museum’s wonderful exhibit. This exhibit is the first ever, in all time, to examine Mel Blanc as an Oregonian and as an artist.

Here are the amateur radio performers who first coached an extremely talented Portland teenager to professional success. These are the men, who, in their explorations of the lively, dynamic, and fertile new artform called radio, gave Mel Blanc the key to his future.

Go see for yourself the life journey of this American artist.

The Oregon Jewish Museum exhibit, which has multimedia interactive elements, draws on family photos and heirlooms loaned by the Blanc family. It will be up until September 11, 2011.

Oregon Jewish Museum

1953 NW Kearney, Portland, Oregon

(503) 226 -3600


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

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.

Join the Portlanders who plan to deepen their Mel Blanc knowledge by attending a walking tour of Mel Blanc’s Portland, held on Saturday July 23 and on Saturday July 30. Led by Bill Crawford and Dennis Nyback, the tours leave from the Hollywood Theatre at 1:00 PM.

Test Your Mel Blanc Knowledge

In News on June 23, 2011 at 5:56 am
1. Mel Blanc’s favorite character was:
a) Sylvester the Cat, because Sylvester was the closest to his own, normal speaking voice
b) Woody Woodpecker, because Woody’s laugh was perfected in the halls of Lincoln High School
c) Bugs Bunny, because a doctor was once able to bring him out of a long coma by asking to speak to Bugs
Answer: c
Editor’s note: Mel Blanc asserted that Bugs Bunny was his favorite character, however all three answers are statements taken from his autobiography.
2. Melvyn Jerome  Blank changed his name because
a) Melvyn Douglas didn’t want the competition
b) a teacher said “You’ll never amount to anything. You’re just like your name – a blank.”
c) he didn’t know what his real name was
answer: b
Editor’s note: “c” may in some sense also be true — the name Blank may have been given to an ancestor at Ellis Island by an government worker too impatient to discover/spell/record the real name. For all we know “a” is true as well
3. Mel Blanc began his life long smoking habit of one pack a day….
a) at age 27, when he left Portland for Hollywood
b) at age 19, when he joined the KGW Hoot Owls as a cast member
c)  at age 8, when he began  selling newspapers on street corners in downtown Portland
answer: c
4. Mel Blanc’s weekly salary as director/writer/producer/performer on Cobweb & Nuts, a daily one hour Portland radio show was
a $220
b $89
c $15
answer: c. He and his wife budgeted $1 a day for food (for both of them)
5. As a young Portland creative, Mel Blanc rented a house in
a) NW Portland, close to where Will Vinton later opened an animation studio
b) SW Portland, close to the radio station on 6th & Alder, where he worked
c) NE Portland, close to the Hollywood Theater, which he loved to attend
d) SE Portland, just off Hawthorne, with all the other cool kids his age
Answer: d
6: Mel Blanc moved from Portland to LA in 1935 because
a) Warner Brothers was hiring geniuses – Chuck Jones, Tex Avery  and Bob Clampett – and he knew that was where he belonged
b) his wife missed her parents
c) he didn’t want to start selling insurance door to door
Answer: c


Oregon Cartoon Institute’s 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.

Another recommended method of deepening your knowledge is to attend the entire lecture series,  Mel Blanc: The Portland Years.

Bugs Ain’t A New Yorker, Doc!

In News on May 31, 2011 at 7:32 am

To the Editor,

In the October 8, 2010 Sunday New York Times, Dan Barry describes the voice of Bugs Bunny as one of “those many distinctive voices channeled by Mel Blanc” and correctly identifies Bugs’ accent as a “Brooklyn-Bronx blend”.

Just for the record, Mel Blanc grew up in Portland, Oregon.  He developed his amazing vocal chops doing voices on Portland radio starting in 1927.   When he made the leap from Portland to Hollywood, he arrived a fully formed voice artist.  It is a tribute to Mel Blanc’s craft and talent, and one might add genius, that the world thinks Bugs grew up in Flatbush.


 Dennis Nyback

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

Another recommended method of deepening your knowledge is to attend Mel Blanc: The Portland Years, our upcoming lecture series.

Patti Smith/Johnny Depp/Bugs Bunny/American Genius

In News on May 24, 2011 at 2:42 am

In Vanity Fair’s current cover story, The Crowded Mind Of Johnny Depp, poet-turned-rocker-turned-memoirist Patti Smith asks mega star Johnny Depp where he found his inspiration for the perpetually unstable, yet quick witted, Captain Jack Sparrow.

Smith: I overheard someone in your camp—maybe it was on the set of The Rum Diary,or maybe it was The Tourist—talking about how eager you were to get back to Captain Jack, and about how much Jack was like you. How do you feel when you enter into the skin of Captain Jack?

Depp: Free—free to be irreverent. I think it’s like unlocking a part of yourself and freeing this part of yourself to just be—what do they call it?—the id, or whatever, just to be … just to be, under whatever circumstances. The closest thing that I can compare it to was having known Hunter Thompson really well—we were very, very close—and witnessing him, because I studied him so deeply and lived with him for a period of time to try to become Raoul Duke, to try to become Hunter. There was a certain freedom that he had, or control, or command of the situation—there was never anything that he couldn’t get through. Verbally he was just so clever and so quick and so free, and he didn’t give a rat’s ass about what the repercussions were.

Smith: He was the revolutionary’s Johnny Carson. I mean, he always had a punch line.

Depp: Somebody once asked him, “What is the sound of one hand clapping, Hunter?,” and he smacked him. Captain Jack was kind of like that for me, an opening up of this part of yourself that is somewhat—you know, there is a little Bugs Bunny in all of us.

Smith: Young kids love—really love—the Captain. And who is more mystically mischievous, and brilliant in his own way, than Bugs Bunny?

Depp: At the time, I had been watching nothing but cartoons with my daughter—with Lily Rose. I hadn’t seen a grown-up film in forever. It was all cartoons, all those great old Warner Bros. things. And I thought, Jesus, the parameters here are so much wider and more forgiving in terms of character. These cartoon characters could get away with anything. And I thought, They’re beloved by 3-year-olds and 93-year-olds. How do you do that? How do you get there? That was kind of the start.

Further proof of Captain Jack’s debt to Bugs Bunny can be found in this second interview, where Depp once again cites the carrot chomping wiseass (“Ain’t I a stinker?”) as a source of inspiration.

Oregon Cartoon Institute hereby extends honorary membership to both Patti Smith and Johnny Depp.

For more information about Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny for 49 years, see the Archives of this website.

Another recommended method of deepening your knowledge is to attend the Mel Blanc Lecture Series throughout June, culminating with Mel Blanc Day  with Craig Adams, Courtenay Hameister, Robyn Tenenbaum and Sean McGrath on Wednesday, June 29, 7:30 PM in PSU’s Lincoln Hall. This event is free.

For people who can’t wait until the lecture series,  and want to get right down to it, we recommend you attend the Mel Blanc Project Screening Series at The Secret Society, throughout May.

Beginner’s Guide To Mel Blanc

In News on May 24, 2011 at 1:55 am

Oregon Cartoon Institute’s Beginner’s Guide to Mel Blanc was compiled to provide basic information.  Think of it as a first aid kit to fight complete ignorance. It is available to all, just return the kit back to the wall when you are through using it.

Q: Who was Mel Blanc?

A: Mel Blanc ( 1908 – 1989) was the premier voice artist of Hollywood’s Golden Age of Animation. The first voice artist to receive screen credit, he is widely viewed as the first truly professional voice artist.

Q: What did he do?

A: He provided voices for hundreds of cartoon characters. The majority of Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes characters were voiced by this one man. Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck are three of his most famous characterizations.

Caricature by Martinus Van Tee

Q: Is that his real name?

A: No. His birth name was Melvyn Jerome Blank. He was born May 30, 1908 in San Francisco to Frederick and Eva (Katz) Blank.

Q: How did he come to be a voice artist?

A: He began imitating voices at an early age. He made his radio debut in 1927, at age nineteen, when he was recruited by an early  Portland radio show, the KGW Hoot Owls, to sing a novelty song.

Q: The voice of Bugs Bunny came from Portland, Oregon?!

A: Correct. The Blank family moved to Portland in 1915, when Mel was five and a half.

Q: When did Mel Blanc go Hollywood?

A: He moved to Los Angeles in 1935, and was hired by Leon Schlessinger to provide the voice of a drunk in Picador Porky in 1937, his first Warner Brothers cartoon.

Q: Why are you celebrating his life and career with the Mel Blanc Project?

A: You are showing signs of advancing to the next level of Mel Blanc scholarship.

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

Another recommended method of deepening your knowledge is to attend Mel Blanc: The Portland Years, our upcoming lecture series.

For people who can’t wait until the lecture series,  and want to get right down to it, we recommend you attend the Mel Blanc Project Screening Series at The Secret Society, throughout May.

Top Five Myths About Mel Blanc

In News on January 1, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Myth #1. Mel Blanc graduated from Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon.

False! Lincoln High School has no record that Melvin Jerome Blanc ever graduated. He did attend.

Myth #2. Mel Blanc moved to Los Angeles in order to become a voice artist.

False! Mel Blanc already was a voice artist when he arrived in Los Angeles. His first professional gig was here in Portland, on KGW radio, in 1927.

Myth #3. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig formed the center of Mel Blanc’s professional universe.

False! Mel Blanc’s first love was radio, and he worked steadily in radio throughout his entire life.

Caricature by Martinus Van Tee

Myth #4. Mel Blanc’s phenomenal talent was a freak of nature.

False! Mel Blanc worked hard to develop his talent. He conducted two parallel careers from 1927 to 1935: he was both a musician and  a radio performer. As a musician, he had front row seats (in the orchestra pit) to study the comic delivery of the nation’s top vaudeville comics, a group which included Jack Benny, with whom he would eventually work. As a radio performer, he spent five years performing on a one hour weekly show at Portland’s KGW, one year emceeing a radio program in San Francisco, and two years doing his own daily one hour show – which he wrote, produced, and starred in – on Portland’s KEX. He was eight years into a show business career when he moved to Los Angeles.

Myth #5. Matt Groening, Oregon’s other animation supernova (who did graduate from Lincoln High School), idolizes Mel Blanc.

Not sure! Matt Groening has gone on record stating that Bill Plympton is God.

Heather Perkins, Artist In Residence

In News on January 1, 2011 at 2:11 am

Heather Perkins expanded the programming vision of Oregon Cartoon Institute when she became our first artist in residence in the spring of 2009.  She chose Mel Blanc as the focus of her work here at the Institute. Since that time, we have been scurrying around the marble halls setting up the Mel Blanc Project, which will include Heather’s musical investigation of Mel Blanc’s favorite creation, Bugs Bunny.

Conjuring sonic beauty at a recent live performance at Mississippi Pizza, Heather Perkins danced between her laptop, an electronic keyboard,  and several exotic electronic instruments rarely seen outside of a recording studio. When she needs a human voice, she croons into a microphone.

Born and raised in Portland, Perkins writes and performs music for dance, animation, video games, film, theater and live performance. You may have heard her collaborations with Ten Tiny Dances, or with Rose Bond, or with Minh Tran. Or , as a 2010 RACC artist, with the ElectroGals at Disjecta. If you thought this year’s Holiday Revue presented by Oregon Ballet Theater was especially cool, it was probably because Heather Perkins also played that gig.

Photo credit: Portland Tribune