Today is the birthday of Melvin Jerome “Mel” Blank [original spelling] (1908-1989). Everyone knows him as voice-over actor of all the classic Warner Bros cartoon characters: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzalez, Pepe LePew, Sylvester and Tweety, etc. In later years, Blanc also did Hanna-Barbera characters such as Barney Rubble on The Flintstones and Mr. Spacely on The Jetsons.
But today we want to hit the vaudeville angle. A San Francisco native, Blanc dropped out of high school to conduct local big bands and perform comedy in small time vaudeville theatres in the Pacific Northwest (the area known by vaudevillians as “the death trail” due to its long jumps between towns). In 1927, he broke into radio, and his talent for doing many voices quickly became noticed, and he rapidly worked his way up the rungs from local radio to national shows like The Joe Penner Show on CBS and The Jack Benny Program on NBC. He was to remain a staple of Benny’s radio and television programs until it went off the air in 1965, usually in highly anticipated cameos, such as the train station announcer, whose last departure town was always “CUCamonga”, and “Sy, the Little Mexican” (the routine that went “Si…Sy…Sew…Sue. See below for a variant of that one). He also made frequent appearances on other hit radio programs such as The Abbott and Costello Show and Burns and Allen. His work in animated cartoons began in 1937.
Here’s one (of probably dozens) of the Sy routines with Benny. It’s not politically correct but neither was vaudeville.
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc