Lunedi Lunacy

While searching for a video clip I stumbled upon one that featured the late Mel Blanc – “the man of  a thousand voices”.  As these things do that led to randomly clicking on videos from a few of the many programmes that featured one of the greatest of “second bananas”.

Blanc was a regular with Jack Benny both on radio and television as a cast member and part of Benny’s creative team.   He play everything from Sy the Mexican to Professor LeBlank, Jack’s long-suffering violin teacher to Benny’s decrepit old Maxwell automobile.  Apparently the audio of the old clunker (the car not Jack) sputtering didn’t work during a live radio broadcast day so Blanc quickly imitated it with such success that it was added to his long list of characters.

Benny and he had a chemistry on stage that was one of the best in the business as this little sketch goes to show:

In the 1960s CBS tried to duplicate the success of their I Love Lucy by casting the gamine Belgian actress Annie Fargé in Angel.  Though Fargé was a huge success the show rated low and only ran for one season.  However it gave Blanc one of his funniest cameos in a long string of sit-com appearances:

And by the way Blanc’s name was Melvin Jerome Blank (thanks to Laurent for catching that one.)

Many people wouldn’t recognize Blanc but they’d recognize the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Speedy Gonzales, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, the Tasmanian Devil, Pepé Le Pew and many of the other characters from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies during that golden age of American animation.

I once had a French teacher tell me that if I wanted to get the proper cadence of French then listen to Pepé Le Pew – and that was part of Blanc’s success, he understood the rhythm, flow and stress of language.  And he knew how to make us laugh:

At his request his gravestone is inscribed:  THAT’S ALL FOLKS”.

On this day in 1905: Las Vegas is founded when 110 acres (0.45 km2), in what later would become downtown, are auctioned off.

Lunedi Lunacy

There was a day when television comedy had an innocence about it – no f-bombs, sexual innuendo was subtle and stereotypes were played out for their comedic value. Strange how today it is the stereotypes that are considered verboten and anything else goes.

Here’s a truly – in my not so humble opinion – funny routine by one of the greats with another of the greats. 

Mel Blanc was the man who put much of the Looney in Looney Tunes and Jack Benny was the everyone’s skinflint uncle burden with the fear of growing old.   He was always 39 years old and a penny saved was a penny in that vault under his house protected by alligators and Ed the Guard who had been on duty since Jack turned 38.

As a sidebar we use to kid my father, who made no bones of being in his late 50s, about being a “Jack Benny 39” which led to an unfortunate misunderstanding the night he had his second stroke.  It was 2:30 am when my mother woke me to say my father was ill and she had called the local ambulance.  Though not quite the country we lived far enough away that the fire trucks arrived first.  As they applied oxygen one of the fireman started taking down information.   He asked my mother how old my father was.  Without missing a beat she answered, “Thirty-nine”.  He looked at my father and then back at my mother, no doubt thoroughly confused.  “Thirty-nine, ma’m?”  My mother simply nodded numbly.  It wasn’t until we got to the hospital that we assured them it was a “Jack Benny 39”.

September 15 – 1616: The first non-aristocratic, free public school in Europe is opened in Frascati, Italy.

Lunedi Lunacy

My editor was a Bugs Bunny fan and wanted a review of Looney Tunes: Back in Action; so I suffered through a sad, insipid attempt to revive the fortunes of Warner Brothers and Brandon Fraser. As I was leaving the cinema I overheard one of the greatest compliments an actor could receive:

Boy (7-8 years old): Yeah, well it was okay.
Boy’s Friend: Yeah but the guy playing Bugs Bunny wasn’t very good!

I stop in my tracks – he was right. Of course the guy playing Bugs Bunny wasn’t very good – he was generated by a computer and the voice was a sorry imitation of what we all know Bugs really sounds like. Mel Blanc was gone and anything else would just be a pale imitation.

As well as being the voice of most of Looney Tunes Blanc was also a regular on the Jack Benny Show. Here’s one of their favorite routines – sorry it probably isn’t politically correct in this day and age but I still think it’s funny.

The routine never changed – it didn’t have to.

25 agosto – San Ludovico

Lunedi Lunacy

A week or so ago I posted a clip from Cabin in the Sky featuring the great Ethel Waters and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Anderson was a memeber of one of radio and TV’s most brilliant repertoire companies: The Jack Benny Show. Benny was the star of the show but more often than not as the straight man to some of the funniest comics of the time: Mel Blanc, Frank Nelson, Don Wilson, Dennis O’Day, Phil Harris, Mary Livingston, Verna Felton and Anderson. Benny was quoted as saying: I don’t care who gets the laughs on my show, as long as the show is funny.

For more than 30 years Anderson played Benny’s valet but from the eary years on racial stereotyping was something Benny wouldn’t allow. The two performers respected and admired each other and it shows in their work together.

11 agosto – Santa Chiara