Oregon Cartoon Institute

Posts Tagged ‘George Olsen’

Last Chance! The Mel Blanc Exhibit At OJM Closes Sept. 12, 2011

In News on September 8, 2011 at 3:32 am

For people who love thinking about pop culture, and for the smaller subset of people who love thinking about pop culture in Portland, this past summer contained an embarrassment of riches. Oregon Jewish Museum’s That’s All, Folks: The Mel Blanc Story exhibit plus Oregon Historical Society’s Oregon Rocks exhibit equalled an unparalleled opportunity to examine Rose City’s cultural past.

There was considerable overlap in the subject matter of the two exhibits.

Mel Blanc was a musician. He grew up surrounded by live music. By 1915, the year Mel Blanc (then Mel Blank) arrived, Portland had 70 movie theaters. Gary Lacher’s and Steve Stone’s research uncovered the interesting factoid that when the Blank family got here from San Francisco, they moved right next door to a nicklodeon. That’s how many theaters there were! Everywhere you turned around! Mel wrote in his autobiography about how he loved them.

He loathed  school, but he loved theaters. “Silent” movies were not silent,  but were accompanied, either by a solo pianist or by a small (or large) orchestra. Recorded music had yet to be invented, so vaudeville theaters disseminated pop music via live music acts of every description – singers, instrumental soloists, and bands of every type.

Mel Blanc was studying violin himself when he became enamored of the deadpan comic timing of violinist “Ben K. Benny”, the vaudevillian who later sawed his way to the top as Jack Benny. Blanc cites Benny as his favorite vaudeville act – he saw him perform every chance he got,  paying his way in with cash he made selling Portland newspapers. Once in Hollywood he worked with Jack Benny for years, both on radio and on television.

.

However it was Portland’s music scene which first attracted the attention of the young, gifted performer.

He must have heard an awful lot about Louis Kaufman, the musical prodigy who outgrew the opportunities for training here in Portland and went to Julliard in 1915 (the year Mel Blanc arrived). Kaufman, like Blanc, played the violin. Like Blanc, he started in Portland and wound up in Hollywood.

He saw Portland bandleader George Olsen ascend to Broadway, and later Hollywood.

.

He saw Portland musician Del Porter, a personal friend, duplicate that feat.

.

When George Olsen was recruited by Fannie Brice for Broadway, his replacement at the Multnomah Hotel was Herman Kenin, another Portlander. Kenin gave Mel Blanc some of his first professional gigs.

.

Portland presented Mel Blanc with enough union scale work as a sousaphone player in dance bands that he was able to take full advantage of the low paying, but tremendously foundational, voice artist gig he was offered at KGW Hoot Owls in 1927. The Hoot Owls show included live music, comic sketches, and a great deal of topical reference and improvisation. The atmosphere of barely contained creative anarchy was similar to what he would later encounter in Los Angeles, at Termite Terrace.

Portland radio historian Craig Adams documented Mel Blanc’s shift from musician to voice artist in this timeline, constructed from newspaper accounts.

If you would like a window into the Jazz Age Portland which produced Mel Blanc, go see That’s All, Folks!: The Mel Blanc Story exhibit at Oregon Jewish Museum.

But go right away! The exhibit comes down on Sept. 12.

If you would like a delightful overview of Portland music, concentrating on Portland rock, head over to Oregon Rocks at Oregon Historical Society.

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

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

Advertisements

I’m In The Market For You: Portland Pop Stars Inspire Mel Blanc @ IFCC/ Wednesday, June 15, 7:00 PM

In News on June 10, 2011 at 4:09 am

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

7:00 PM

Ethos at IFCC, 5340 North Interstate Avenue, Portland, Oregon

Admission: $10 ($9.00 for PSU students, Ethos Music Center students, members of Oregon Historical Society, and members of Oregon Jewish Museum)  

Purchase a ticket for this event here.

This lecture will introduce the audience to three Oregon performers whose ascent to stardom Mel Blanc directly witnessed. Portland born and raised George Olsen shot to national stardom when Fanny Brice heard him and brought him to the Ziegfeld Follies in New York. He became a Broadway star and sold millions of records — all in front of Mel Blanc’s impressionable eyes.

Lee Morse was an Oregon born, Idaho raised singer who also sold tons of records, and was a big star on the radio.

Del Porter was a friend of Mel Blanc’s, a fellow musician, who as part of the singing group The Foursome, performed on Broadway and appeared behind Eleanor Powell in Born To Dance (1936). Porter was from Newburg. In the following clip he sings with Spike Jones and the City Slickers, a band which evolved from  Del Porter’s own band, The Feather Merchants.

Guest speakers: Dennis Nyback, singer & historian of American popular song, and Rick Meyers, musician & music historian. Dennis and Rick have performed together in the past, and this lecture may well burst into song – as these two music historians discuss the music Mel Blanc heard, and made, here in Portland.

Films: Dennis will show films of Portland bandleader turned national superstar George Olsen, Oregon born singer-songwriter Lee Morse, and Del Porter, the Newberg born friend of Mel Blanc’s who beat him to the Big Screen.

Purchase a ticket for this event here.

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.

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


Timeline Of Mel Blanc In Portland

In News on June 2, 2011 at 11:03 pm
  • Born May 30, 1908, in San Francisco, to Frederick and Eva (Katz) Blank
  • Arrives in Portland in 1915
  • Begins taking violin lessons at Neighborhood House, studies for eight years.
  • Begins selling newspapers on street corners downtown (and smoking a pack a day) 1916
  • Sees his first animated cartoon, Felix Saves The Day, starring Felix The Cat, in 1922.
  • Spends the entire summer indoors, grounded because of a swimming accident (jumping off the Steel Bridge into the Willamette) which caused the death of a friend. Receives a radio from his father during this time. Radios are so new that this one was built from scratch by an inventor. Mel falls in love with the medium. 1922
  • Appears on Portland radio, as part of a childrens group, a one time event. 1923.
  • Witnesses George Olsen, a local jazz band leader, become a huge Broadway star. 1923
  • Joins the Hoot Owls, as a listener, 1923.
  • A teacher tells him he will never amount to anything, he’ll be “just like his name, a blank”.
  • Begins spelling his name “Blanc”, 1924
  • Invents the Woody Woodpecker laugh in the halls of Lincoln High School.
  • Plays sousaphone ( tuba) with three different dance bands in Portland.
  • Drops out of Lincoln High School.
  • Joins the Hoot Owls as a cast member, 1927.
  • Becomes a local celebrity 1930
  • Goes to SF to work in radio, then to LA. Cannot find work. 1932
  • Meets and marries Estelle in LA, brings her to Portland. They live near Hawthorne & SE 22nd. 1933
  • Has his own radio show, Cobweb & Nuts, 1933 – 1935
  • Tired of low pay, they move to LA, 1935
  • Gets Warner Bros audition, 1937.
  • Begins making movie history — immediately.


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.

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