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The Mason of 1,000 Voices: Mel Blanc

By October 5, 2023No Comments
Mel Blanc in the recording studio speaking into a microphone.
Mel Blanc, the Freemason and voice actor known as the “Man of a Thousand Voices” 

“Eh…what’s up, Doc?”

Just about anyone who reads that line hears the words spoken in the voice of perhaps the most famous cartoon character in history. Mel Blanc left a permanent mark on children’s hearts across America throughout the 20th century by giving life to beloved characters, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Barney Rubble. Mel Blanc amassed over 1,000 acting and voice credits throughout his career, and, even more impressively, he created and performed nearly 400 distinct character voices. 

His passion for his work and the precision and expressive vocal range he brought to the field of voice acting earned him the moniker “The Man of Thousand Voices.” Despite passing away nearly 35 years ago, Blanc is widely considered one of Hollywood’s most influential voice actors. 

Beyond his extensive career in entertainment, Mel Blanc was also a Freemason for nearly 60 years. He joined DeMolay International as a youth, quickly took to heart the organization’s timeless values, and sought to transform himself into a man of the highest caliber. As an adult, his commitment to serving others drew him to Freemasonry, and over time, he became a Master Mason and joined Shriners International and Scottish Rite Freemasonry. 

A Unique Voice

Mel Blanc was born Melvin Jerome Blank on May 30, 1908, in San Francisco, California. He was the second child born to his parents, Frederick Harvey Blank and Eva H. Katz Blank. The early years of Mel’s childhood were in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood before his family moved to Portland, Oregon. His affinity for music and performing was innate, and he began practicing different voices and dialects when he was just ten years old. He quickly became proficient in bass, violin, and sousaphone, and it didn’t take long before he used his extraordinary talent to entertain his friends at school and even earn a buck. 

In June of 1923, when Mel was just 15, he landed his first job as a radio performer, singing on KGW’s Stories by Aunt Nell, a weekday program for children. While his abilities delighted his friends at school and were enough to secure work, his teachers were less impressed by his talent. It is reported that a formative moment came when he was 16 and a student at Portland’s Lincoln High School. Blanc claimed a teacher told him that his future was “blank,” just like his name, prompting the youngster to change the spelling of his name as soon as possible.

Welcome to DeMolay

When Mel was 17, he joined the Sunnyside Chapter of DeMolay in 1925. DeMolay is an international youth leadership organization with Masonic roots that gives young men the tools to lead and the guidance to succeed, all while building lifelong friendships. The organization’s mission is to shape young men into leaders of character, and it certainly left its mark on Mel Blanc. 

In 1966, he received the Legion of Honor, an award given to members who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and can be implicitly relied upon to help young men carrying the ideals of DeMolay into every walk of life.

On April 27, 1987, 62 years after joining DeMolay International, Blanc was inducted into their Hall of Fame. He then commented, “I have been a member of DeMolay for 63 years. I thank God and DeMolay for helping me become kind and thoughtful to my parents and all my friends. I had many opportunities to do the wrong things, and I might have done them if it were not for DeMolay. God bless them.” His positive experience in DeMolay likely set him up for his long and fruitful journey as a Freemason later in life.

Photograph of the cast of The Jack Benny Program. 
The cast of The Jack Benny Program; Bro. Blanc positioned on the far right

The Golden Age of Radio

Blanc’s tenure working on Stories by Aunt Nell was just the catalyst for the exciting career as a vocal performer that was to come. In 1927, he graduated from high school and began leading an orchestra. Only 19, he was the youngest conductor in the country. While at it, he split his time with the orchestra and performed in vaudeville shows around the Pacific Northwest. That same year, he made his first professional foray in voice acting when he debuted on the KGW program The Hoot Owls. His ability to provide distinct voices for multiple characters stood out and garnered attention from more prominent broadcasters.

By 1932, Blanc’s outstanding vocal performances landed him a job with NBC’s KGO San Francisco in 1931 for their program The Road Show. While the show was canceled soon after NBC recruited Blanc, the young actor was able to find short-term work in Los Angeles. Here, he met his wife Estelle Rosenbaum, whom he married in 1933. The newlyweds soon moved back to Portland and began working together as co-hosts of a daily radio show called Cobwebs and Nuts. Given the show’s low budget, they couldn’t hire supporting actors, and Blanc was required to voice most of the characters, allowing him to hone his skills further.

For two years, the program played Monday through Saturday late at night. After the show ended, and with much insistence from Estelle, they returned to Los Angeles. Mel joined Warner Bros.–owned KFWB in Hollywood in 1935 and was cast on The Johnny Murray Show before switching to CBS Radio and The Joe Penner Show the following year. 

Mel also featured in various roles on The Jack Benny Program, including voicing Benny’s Maxwell automobile), Polly the Parrot, Benny’s pet polar bear Carmichael, and others. He famously earned the role of the car when the recording of the automobile’s sounds failed to play on cue, and Blanc jumped in to improvise the sounds himself, much to the audience’s delight.

“The Wabbit Who Came to Supper”

 If I saw a person smile, that to me was payment in itself. If I could make them laugh when they had been very sad, it was a great payment to me.”- Mel Blanc.

As the 1930s wore on, Mel’s hard work began paying off. After several auditions for Warner Bros and subsequent rejections, he was finally ready to work in Leon Schlesinger’s animation studio. His first voiceover was for Porky’s Road Race, his first Looney Tunes animated film short, in 1937. Who could have known then that this moment would forever change the entertainment world? The following year, Estelle gave birth to their only child, a son named Noel. Things were coming together nicely for the Blancs. 

Within three years, Blanc had given voice to many of his most famous characters, including Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, and Woody Woodpecker. Blanc’s success led to higher profile opportunities, and he was soon working on a dozen network shows, including roles as the unhappy Mr. Postman on the Burns & Allen Show, Botsford Twink on the Abbott & Costello Show, and Private Sad Sack on the Bob Hope Show. By 1942, Oregonian columnist and radio editor William Moyes dubbed Mel Blanc “Hollywood’s busiest actor.”

As the 40s progressed to the 50s, Blanc signed with Capitol Records, where he recorded story albums and featured in his first film, Neptune’s Daughter. He also started voicing iconic characters like Mr. Magoon and Barney Rubble on The Flintstones. At the height of his career, Mel had introduced other beloved characters into American homes, including Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, and Yosemite Sam. His regular appearances on network television programs carried Blanc’s career well into the 1960s.

Mel Blanc's headstone at the "Hollywood Forever Cemetery" in Southern California. 
Mel Blanc’s gravestone at the “Hollywood Forever Cemetery”

The Voice of a Freemason

Despite his move to Los Angeles, a booming career, and a busy schedule, Mel Blanc remained a member of the Sunnyside Chapter of DeMolay in Portland his whole life. In 1931, he joined Mid-Day Lodge No. 188 in Portland and enthusiastically embarked on his Masonic journey. Twenty years later, at age 43, Blanc joined the Scottish Rite Valley of Los Angeles, taking his degrees from June 14 through June 16, 1951.

Two weeks later, he joined Al Malaikah Shrine Temple. In his autobiography, he wrote, “When I was a teenager, I used to pass by the Portland Shrine Hospital located not far from my parent’s home. Hearing about the work they did with crippled children was what initially piqued my interest in the fellowship and prompted me to seek admission.”

Mel was a genuine Mason in his heart and lived our values by regularly completing charity work and continuing to visit children during his adult life at the Los Angeles Shrine Hospital. As a Shriner, Mel “spent countless hours with the youngsters.” Of his time volunteering, he said, “I don’t know who appreciates whom more, me or them.” 

His passion for volunteering grew after he survived a car accident in 1961. Blanc was in a coma for three weeks after the accident, finally responding only when his physician, seeing a Warner Brothers cartoon on the TV, asked, “How are you feeling today, Bugs Bunny?” Mel replied in character, “Eh, just fine Doc, how’re you?”

Brother Mel began to do more charity work once he was healthy. He wrote, “As soon as I was able to get around, I stepped up my number of appearances…at Shrine hospitals.” Going to “the Los Angeles Shrine Hospital for the first time since my accident was very emotional for me,” he wrote. He explained, “As I sat talking in Sylvester’s voice to a darling little girl, I thanked God for not revoking this undeserved gift.”

“That’s All, Folks”

Brother Blanc continued his work for years after the accident, sharing his gift with new generations. On May 19, 1989, he checked into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center when his family noticed he had a bad cough while shooting a commercial. Initially, he was expected to recover, but his condition deteriorated due to advanced coronary artery disease. He spent nearly two months in the hospital, and after 66 years of bringing to life hundreds of beloved cartoon characters, passed to the Celestial Lodge on July 10, 1989, at the age of 81.

He is interred in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with a gravestone that reads “THAT’S ALL FOLKS”— one of his most famous and enduring lines. Brother Blanc is still considered Hollywood’s most influential and talented voice actor. His passion for bringing joy and entertainment to others and his commitment to Freemasonry have cemented him as a man who fully exemplified the Masonic principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

Read our articles on Don Rickles and Joe E. Brown to learn about more famous (and funny) Masons!