Many of our first associations with the name Mel Blanc are the cozy and simple weekend mornings of our childhoods, grounded by the familiar Technicolor images of the Warner Brothers logo.
Many of our first associations with the name Mel Blanc are the cozy and simple weekend mornings of our childhoods, grounded by the familiar Technicolor images of the Warner Brothers logo. However, in revisiting these memorable animated shorts, one realizes that his name doesn’t appear in the credits.
Despite Warner Brothers’ poor recognition for Blanc’s unrivaled contributions to cartoon history, his became a household name. He eventually negotiated with the production company to include his credit under the title “Vocal Characterizationist,” an indelible amendment that gave greater recognition to voice actors who followed in his footsteps. Blanc is considered by many to be the most respected voice actor in Hollywood history.
Lucky for us, he’s actually from Portland.
February marks the inauguration of the Oregon Cartoon Institute’s Mel Blanc Project—a collaborative and multimedia effort to pay tribute to the works of one of Portland’s most prolific entertainers.
Anne Richardson and Dennis Nyback founded The Oregon Cartoon Institute (OCI) in 2007 after the pair continued to stumble upon the hidden Portland upbringings of many influential figures in cartoon history. What resulted is a volunteer-run, non-profit organization whose mission is to educate Oregonians about this relatively unknown and reasonably awesome history that will cause them to “burst with pride.”
In order to connect past with present, the OCI works closely with a contemporary local artist.
“We ask a living Oregon artist to help us teach audiences about Oregon’s animation past,” Anne Richardson says. “In this case, we chose composer Heather Perkins, and let her choose which animation or cartooning figure she wanted to focus on. She chose Mel Blanc. It is because of Heather that the Mel Blanc Project exists.”
Perkins, the OCI’s current artist-in-residence, is composing an original musical tribute to Blanc’s life and work, specifically his most revered character, Bugs Bunny. Her work will be performed live in concert during the heart of the project—May through August this year.
The Project also works in conjunction with the Oregon Jewish Museum’s upcoming Mel Blanc exhibit, which runs this May through September.
“The Oregon Jewish Museum was very happy to hear that we were planning to do something about Mel Blanc, and asked if we could coordinate our efforts,” Richardson added.
It’s inspiring to see various communities coming together to support the work of such an influential artist in Portland’s history. Like many other Portland-born artists, Blanc’s Pacific Northwest upbringing remains a footnote to his Hollywood career. Nevertheless, Blanc realized and nurtured many of his talents on Portland ground before heading south to Los Angeles.
“This is one of the main points we want to make in the Mel Blanc Project—the Portland-specific ways Mel Blanc was nourished as an artist.”
On Tuesdays throughout the month, the OCI pairs up with local venue The Waypost to host the Mel Blanc Screening Series. The series is a kickoff event to familiarize people with the project, as well as an effort to reach out to the community and seduce some future volunteers. The OCI relies heavily on volunteer efforts, and this project is an excellent opportunity for animators, filmmakers, artists and regular old Mel Blanc fans to get involved with Portland’s thriving cartoon community and pay homage to a man who illustrates our city’s legendary artistic milieu.
“Blanc didn’t go to LA to find out he was a gifted voice artist,” Richardson proudly comments. “By the time he moved his career to Hollywood in 1935, he already knew.” ?