What#039;s Up, Clock?

by Beacon Staff • February 13, 2008

Every Saturday morning, from the early 1960s to the early 1990s, living rooms were occupied by a stuttering pig, a maniac Martian named Marvin, a Tasmanian devil and, of course, a carrot-chewing, wise-aleck bunny from Brooklyn. This band of characters entertained generations with their mischief and mayhem.

Now, to celebrate the legacy of Looney Tunes and the 100th birthday of its most famous talent, Mel Blanc, The Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square is holding their 13th Annual Bugs Bunny Film Festival. The merriment kicks off on Feb. 15 with an "All Bugs Revue" and continues throughout the week, ending on Feb. 22 with the Revue and "Looney Centennials!"

According to Ned Hinkle, creative director at The Brattle Theatre, there have been touring programs of Bugs Bunny films throughout Boston and The Brattle had shown several Looney Tunes movies before the film festival was started. Finally, thirteen years ago, the theatre decided that they love bugs bunny and Looney Tunes, so they decided to make the series an annual celebration.

Hinkle said in a phone interview with The Beacon that the festival is scheduled "Every year during grammar school break, president's week...and it's always a lot of fun. It brings in a lot of kids. We play family films, but a lot of our films are difficult."

As for Hinkle's feelings on Mel Blanc?

"He's the guy," he said. "He's the voice actor for almost every great cartoon that we remember."

Blanc, born Mel Jerome Blank in 1908 in San Francisco, is the man responsible for Sylvester the cat's famous line, "Sufferin' succotash!" and Daffy the Duck's lisping catchphrase "You're desthpicable." In fact, Blanc was the voice behind 90 percent of Warner Brother's characters.

His most beloved character was a know-it-all rabbit named Bugs Bunny. And, as Hinkle points out, Blanc wasn't only the voice of Bugs.

"Anytime you look at a list of classic cartoons, his name is at the top," he said.

According to his obituary in The Los Angeles Times, Blanc once said of Bugs, "He's just a stinker. In other words, he's more or less of the suppressed desire of what men would like to do that don't have guts enough to do."

Before working for Warner, Blanc, an accomplished bassist, violinist and sousaphone player, played in the NBC Radio Orchestra and conducted the pit at the Orpheum Theatre in Portland. He then worked on his own radio show, Cobwebs Nuts.

After moving to L.A., Blanc started working as a character actor on various radio shows. His work included The Jack Benny Show, first when it was on the radio and then on TV. While working on different shows, he attempted to get an oral test from Warner but was refused several times by the same production supervisor. When the supervisor died, Blanc was offered the test by his successor.

He first took over the role of Porky Pig in 1937 and then did the same with the character of Bugs Bunny in 1938. Over the years on Looney Tunes, Blanc provided the voices of Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Sylvester P. Pussycat, Pepe le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin the Martian, Woody Woodpecker, Tasmanian Devil, Elmer Fudd and Speedy Gonzalez. He was also the voice of Barney Rubble and Dino the Dinosaur on The Flintstones. He was the first voice specialist to earn over-the-title credits on cartoons.

Jack Benny once said of Mel's range of characters, "There are only five real people in Hollywood. Everybody else is Mel Blanc."

After his death in 1989, his son Noel took over some of his characters for a period of time.

Though cartoons like Looney Tunes seem to be a memory of the past, Mel Blanc's achievements will live on through his band of characters. He will always be remembered as the trickster, the rabbit with the carrot sticking out of his mouth with a sly look in his eye. His death marked the end of an era of great cartoons but now you can relive it by going to The Brattle for The 13th Annual Bugs Bunny Film Festival. But you better get there soon because on Feb. 22, "that's all folks"-at least until next year.