Oregon Cartoon Institute

Posts Tagged ‘Hoot Owls’

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 illustrator and 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.

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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

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Tour Mel Blanc’s Portland: July 23 & July 30

In News on July 22, 2011 at 2:03 am

Where are you in Mel Blanc’s Portland?

Find out on July 23 and on July 30. The tour begins at 1:00 PM at the Hollywood Theater.

Suggested admission: $10.00! Remember to bring train fare for the MAX; we’ll be headed  to downtown Portland.

Here are some of the stops. Tour guides Bill Crawford and Dennis Nyback will provide the historical context for each site. Some stops will include screenings of  films from Dennis Nyback’s archive.

All quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from That’s Not All Folks! My Life In The Golden Age Of Cartoons And Radio, by Mel Blanc and Philip Bashe.

Hollywood Theater:

Mel Blanc writes: “Once each show (Cobwebs and Nuts, for which he served as writer, producer, director and star) had taken shape, we relaxed, sometimes by driving down to the Hollywood Theater for a late afternoon movie.”

Steel Bridge:

Mel Blanc writes about playing hooky with high school friends: “Betcha can’t dive off the bridge,” he challenged, pointing to the steel structure connecting the east and west halves of the city. It had to be at least thirty feet high. Too young and impulsive to assess the potential dangers, the three of us dove in repeatedly, sometimes turning somersaults in midair.”

Sharon Wood Wortman, Portland’s leading bridge historian, confirms that the Steel Bridge is the only Portland bridge which matches the description Mel Blanc gives. She adds that he would have been trespassing on railroad property, since the lower level was at that time was reserved for trains, and pedestrians were forbidden.

Multnomah Hotel (now Embassy Suites): 

Ronald Kramer writes in Pioneer Mikes, A History of Radio and Television in Oregon: “Blanc was playing violin in Herman Kenin’s Orchestra when Degree Team member Harry Grannatt heard him sing and play his ukulele during one of the Multnomah Hotel’s Breakfast Club programs.

Mel Blanc writes: “For the next two years, when I wasn’t behind the microphone, I was playing dance halls throughout the Northwest…At intervals, I’d set down my cumbersome instrument and step out front to sing, all the while watching impeccably attired young men make plays for begowned girls with bobbed hair.”

Charles F. Berg Building:

Mel Blanc writes: “Our little radio troupe was called the Degree Team, and all members were accorded descriptive appellations. My friend, Harry Granitt, an insurance salesman, was nearly seven feet tall, hence his sobriquet The Grand Stringbean. Charles Berg, who ran a downtown department store, was The Grand Screecher. Because of my faculty for fetching laughs, I became The Grand Snicker.”

The Degree Team was the collective name of the innovative media pioneers who performed on KGW radio as The Hoot Owls, a program conceived and produced by Charles F. Berg, whose name appears on his downtown building.

Lincoln High School (now Lincoln Hall):

Mel Blanc writes: “Lincoln High had a cavernous hallway that produced a resounding echo; acoustically optimal, I determined, for trying out this new voice I’d been practicing: a shrill cackling laugh.”

Mel Blanc failed to match that manic cackle up with Happy Rabbit, the prototype for Bugs Bunny. He finally found a home for it with Woody Woodpecker.

This is not a complete list! Just some of the stops on the tour.

Because several of the buildings on the tour are architecturally significant, we have invited Sara Garrett, the executive director of MotivSpace, along as a guest speaker.  Sara received her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Physics and Building Science from Portland State University, and is completing the final steps for her Masters in Architecture with the University of Toronto.

In addition to our walking tours, a visit to the Oregon Jewish Museum’s Mel Blanc exhibit is a great way to explore the importance Mel Blanc’s Portland years played in his overall development as an artist.

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

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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.


Mel Blanc Day @ Lincoln Hall/ Wednesday June 29, 7:30 PM. Free admission!

In News on June 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Hoot Owls, Cobwebs & Nuts: Portland Radio Nurtures Mel Blanc

In the fourth and final lecture in the Mel Blanc Lecture Series, which takes place 7:30 PM at 1620 SW Park Avenue on June 29, we will turn our attention to radio.

What role did Portland radio play in creating the Man With A Thousand Voices?

KGW’s Hoot Owls, a weekly hour and a half long show with more than one million listeners, began broadcasting from the Oregonian Tower in 1923. Mel Blanc became a card carrying member, as a listener, that same year. He joined the cast in 1927. He moved to KEX to create in his own daily  show, Cobwebs & Nuts, in 1933. He left for Los Angeles in 1935.

We asked Craig Adams and Robyn Tenenbaum to come help us unravel the question of the influence Portland radio had on Mel Blanc.  We call these events “lectures”, but it might be more accurate to call them onstage conversations, which the audience is invited to join.

Portland early radio historian Craig Adams will talk about Portland’s early adopters, who created radio here when it was a brand new technology/artform. He’ll tell us about the radio Mel Blanc grew up with, and later came to help create.

Robyn Tenenbaum, producer of Live Wire Radio, brings two of Live Wire’s most illustrious stars, Courtenay Hameister and Sean McGrath, with her. All three will provide their updated perspective of Portland radio.

Film archivist Dennis Nyback will show a GI Journal, featuring Mel Blanc performing live as a voice artist. A rare 16mm film, which also features Lucille Ball and Jerry Colonna. Dennis will also show I Love To Singa (1936), a Warner Brothers cartoon spoofing The Jazz Singer which stars a young Owl Jolson making his radio debut.

Vox, a vocal/spoken word choir, will perform Mayor Sam Adams’ official proclamation that June 29, 2011 is Mel Blanc Day in Portland.

Mel Blanc T shirts will be given to the winners of our Mel Blanc Trivia Contest.

Opening the evening is Portland’s hot ukulele band, Honky Tonk Prison, led by Amos Hunter.

At the end of the evening, Craig Adams and Robyn Tenenbaum will induct Mel Blanc into Oregon Cartoon Institute’s Hall of Fame.

This evening is co-sponsored by Oregon Cartoon Institute and PSU School of Fine & Performing Arts.

Lincoln Hall, Mel Blanc’s former high school, is located at 1620 SW Park Avenue, in Portland.

Special thanks to civic minded Oregon Cartoon Institute member and calligrapher extraordinaire, S. W. Conser!

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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.

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.

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.