Oregon Cartoon Institute

Posts Tagged ‘Ronald Kramer’

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


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


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.