I waited six months to talk to him. That’s what his receptionist told me the wait time was for an interview when I called his Beverly Hills office in early 1984.
Since he was my childhood idol, I was willing to wait the required one-half year to have him on my radio show. And wait, I did.
“Alright,” I said. “Six months from today is August 8th. What time should I call?”
“Noon,” she answered.
“Noon it is,” I responded. And then I confirmed the two-hour time difference.
I would call Mel Blanc at 2 p.m. on August 8, 1984. I wrote it in my daily planner.
My excitement was unusual. Part of working in the radio business and doing a talk show is scheduling and interviewing celebrities, politicians, and other public figures. Most didn’t impress me or make me nervous. But this one did.
I was going to talk to the Man of a Thousand Voices. The man who created the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, The Roadrunner, Foghorn Leghorn, and many other characters in the Warner Brothers Looney Toons animated shorts.
This was a big deal. And I told everyone for the next six months.
Rewind a moment to two decades prior. It was the 1960s, and my Saturday mornings were filled with Cap’n Crunch and a large, RCA color console television that was tuned to The Bugs Bunny Show.
The fact that it debuted on television the same year I was born was not a coincidence, in my opinion.
I devoured every single Looney Toon. I learned the dialogue. And I learned the voices. I was so good at them that during rainy days in gym class, the other guys would have me recreate an entire cartoon while we sat on the faded, uncomfortable bleachers at Brown Junior High School.
No one ever told me that Mel Blanc had such a unique voice, that you weren’t supposed to be able to sound like him. I had seen Rich Little impersonate real people, so I just figured that anyone could do voices.
So, I practiced and practiced.
Did I sound just like him? Of course not. But, junior high boys can be brutal. If I hadn’t been close, I would have been treated like junior high boys treat a bad performance.
I decided that that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to voice cartoons like the guy who did Bugs Bunny. But, who was he?
I read the credits on each cartoon, and Mel Blanc was the only name listed for “voice characterizations.” That’s how I first learned who he was. But, there was no Internet, and the library offered little in the way of information.
My father explained to me that Mel Blanc had been around since the early 1930s. In addition to getting the job as Warner Brothers’ exclusive voice talent, he also did a lot of work on radio programs, and later, early television shows.
He worked a lot with Jack Benny, playing everything from Jack’s long-suffering French violin teacher, to the voice of Benny’s old Maxwell automobile.
So, on rare occasions, I would see Mel Blanc on television. But, I still knew little about him.
When I was 17, I got a job at the local radio station in my hometown. It was there that I began honing my interview skills. After a few celebrity interviews, it occurred to me that if I could interview famous country singers, why couldn’t I interview Mel Blanc?
So, that became my goal. But, working on the local station, where the hospital admissions and dismissals report, the fishing show, and the local preachers, were the standard fare, there really wasn’t a place for an interview with Bugs Bunny.
So, I filed it away, but never let it go. I was going to interview Mel Blanc one day. While I had him on the line, maybe I could hit him up for a job.
A few years passed. I married and had kids. I also moved to a bigger radio market.
I would do the Looney Toons voices for my sons. They thought that it was normal for a dad to sound like their favorite cartoons. Their visiting friends assured them that it was not normal.
The radio station I worked for changed its format. As listeners migrated from the AM to the FM dial for music, AM stations were scrambling to find an audience. So, talk radio was born.
I was put on the afternoon drive slot and did one of the first p.m. drive talk shows in Texarkana, Texas. This was before Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others who are now mainstays.
So, in the early days of talk radio, really, anything went. Within reason of course. So, the local police safety officer did traffic reports, we had call ins from listeners on current topics, and there was room for interviews.
I had four hours a day to fill, so my general manager was pretty lenient as far as who I booked.
I mentioned to him one day that I was going to book Mel Blanc.
“Mel Blanc?” he said. “You really think you can get him on your show?”
No one thought I should be able to do the Looney Toons voices either, so getting Mel to do an interview shouldn’t be a problem either, right?
“Yes, six months from now is August 8, 1984, at noon, my time,” Mr. Blanc’s receptionist said.
So, at the agreed upon time, I called. And it wasn’t the same receptionist. She had nothing on the books about an interview with some guy from Texarkana.
I was not giving up.
“Ma’am,” I said. “Down here in Texas, we honor our commitments. I’m sure that Mr. Blanc wouldn’t want to disappoint the listeners. I told them all yesterday that he was going to be on the show today. There’ll sure be a lot of disappointed little kids.”
The main disappointed little kid was going to be me. I’d waited my entire 21 years for this moment.
“One moment,” she said.
A few moments later, I heard an unmistakable voice come on the line.
The next 11 minutes and 39 seconds were the most memorable of my 25 years in broadcasting. He was nice to me and answered all of my questions.
He even said my name in Bugs Bunny’s voice.
I thanked him and hung up. The interview aired that day.
I never asked him about working for him. I didn’t have the nerve. But, I did go to Hollywood five years later and tried to get my foot in the door at Warner Brothers. I had no luck.
Mel Blanc died in 1989. Out of all of the celebrities I’ve interviewed, and there were a lot of them, Mel was the highlight of my career.
I kept the cassette tape of our conversation.
Before I sat down to write this, I dug through my things and I found it. I drug my cassette deck out of the closet, hooked it up, and transferred it to my computer.
The interview can be heard here:
“The, Th, The, Th, The, uh…That’s all, folks!”
©2018 John Moore
John’s book, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Write-Passage-Southerners-View-Then/dp/1548144983
Email John at John@TheCountryWriter.com