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'Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices'

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Mel Blanc: Man of a Thousand Voices

Mel Blanc: Man of a Thousand Voices

Ben Ohmart
If you're looking for a handy encyclopedia that encompasses every animated short, TV cartoon, variety show and general gig Mel Blanc was hired for, this book is for you: Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices is chock full of credits and references. However, if you're looking for an entertaining and insightful look into the Golden Age of cartoons in Hollywood through the eyes of one of its legends, keep looking. The narrative in this book is nonexistent with sentences merely stringing together dates, places and names, leaving nothing out.

Love and Curses

Mel Blanc began life as Mel Blank, only changing his name after one of his high school teachers, angry with him for disrupting class with his antics, said that his name was exactly what he would become, "a blank."

But as Mel Blanc: Man of a Thousand Voices makes clear, the actor was the kind of man who made not only lemonade from lemons, but also a thriving lemonade stand enterprise. At every turning point in Mel Blanc's life, he perservered and welcomed any and every opportunity that came his way.

Mel Blanc's career began during the Great Depression, when vaudeville acts and radio shows were the most popular kinds of entertainment. He went from being a band member, to a band leader, to producing his own radio shows.

After a move to Hollywood, and countless repeat auditions, Mel Blanc began making a name for himself with big production companies like Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. From there he became the most sought-after voice-over actor in Hollywood, later mentoring young and aspiring actors.

Sure, Mel Blanc's life had its share of adversity, such as spending nights with his new wife in their car when he was between jobs, or when he was almost fatally wounded in a terrible car crash. But the book tells us how he maintained a sense of humor and a sunny attitude that sustained him, his friends and family during the hard times.

Hold the Lion, Please

Mel Blanc: Man of a Thousand Voices is full of details and information, too much. The biography would have benefited from the guiding hand of an editor who could separate the wheat from the chaff. For instance, do we need to know the price of a meal at a diner, a theater ticket or a gallon of gas every time Mel hits the road? Yes, you could get more for your money back then, but is this a history of the American economy or a biography of a voice-over legend?

I enjoyed reading about the diverse jobs Mel Blanc had before becoming a voice-over actor in Hollywood. But too many times the reading lead me into a dead end and I wound up lost, wondering where the author meant to go.

His first break came with a call asking if he could do a German dialect, 'like Lew Lehr'... It didn't directly lead to anything else, so it was back to pounding the pavement for a few more weeks.

How was that a break, exactly? And if no job came of it, why are we reading about it?

Much of the book is based on the notes from Noel Blanc, the actor's son, who was working on his own biography of Mel Blanc. Here and there Noel Blanc's notes are quoted word for word, and are more enjoyable to read because the voice is more personal. Again, perhaps an editor could have teased out more of a narrative from the fabric of facts that are presented.

Which is Witch?

The book includes plenty of entertaining nuggets from other personalities, including quotes about Mel from folks like Rich Little, Lucille Ball and President Ronald Reagan. A handful of voice-over actors, like Pat Fraley and Bob Bergen, wrote tributes to Mel for the book.

The black and white photos that are sprinkled through the books are interesting and show Mel with a wide variety of personalities, from his wife to famous actors like Kirk Douglas.

Casual cartoon fans will find the list of credits in the appendix terribly helpful. The credits include titles of even the most obscure animated shorts, plus the names of producers, release dates, production companies, running lengths, composers and synopses.

The foreword by Buys Bunny (yes, you read that right) was disconcerting, making me think I was about to be bamboozled into reading a completely fabricated book.

Overall, the book is a successful reference for fans of not just Mel Blanc, but classic cartoons. As a biography, however, Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices is tough to read and just not as entertaining as its subject most definitely was.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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