COLLECTOR: Mel Blanc
The Man of a Thousand Voices; quite the nickname to live up to, but for Mel Blanc it was not only apt, it was wholly justified. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Pepé Le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam, the Tasmanian Devil, Speedy Gonzales and many more Looney Tunes characters were voiced by Blanc, with the famous lines that they utter are etched into most people's minds, all coming from this one man.
During the golden age of American animation, he would also provide voices to Barney Rubble and Mr Spacely in The Flintstones and The Jetsons respectively at Hanna-Barbera, and prior to his life on screen, he would regularly feature on the radio programs of famous comedians of the period such as Jack Benny.
An iconic photo of Blanc surrounding by many of the characters he gave voices to, courtesy of Christie’s
Born in San Francisco in 1908 before moving to Portland during high school, Blanc was known for doing voices and dialects from a young age, and in 1927 got his first acting job at the radio station KGW. In 1933, he married Estelle Rosenbaum, and in 1938 welcomed their son Noel into the world.
In 1961, Blanc was seriously injured in a head-on collision on Sunset Boulevard at Dead Man’s Curve, when a student at Menlo College lost control of his car and hit Blanc’s Aston Martin (perhaps a DB4 given the year). He would suffer compound fractures in both of his legs, a broken arm and numerous internal injuries, resulting in him being in a coma for two weeks.
Mel sharing his craft with his son Noel who would also go on to become a voice actor, courtesy of Christie’s
During this time, some of his characters had to be covered by other voice actors. His son Noel, who was 22 at the time and had been taught by his father over the years, took care of a number of commercial jobs anonymously until it was revealed years later, and Daws Butler filled in as Barney Rubble on The Flintstones.
Blanc would emerge from coma after two weeks, but it would take a total of seven months for the full body cast to be completely removed. During that time, Hanna-Barbera set up recording equipment in his hospital room and then at his home so that he could continue to work, sometimes with the other cast members surrounding his bed.
Mel and Noel with a portion of their extensive collection sometime in the 1980s, courtesy of Christie’s
Not surprising for a craft that requires perfect intonation, pitch, and rhythm, Mel was fascinated with precision, which would manifest itself clearly in his collection of watches, and by mechanical extension to cars as well. Over the years, Blanc would amass a collection of clocks and watches totalling over 500 pieces in something of a private museum displayed in cabinets at his home.
Clearly a man with an eye for quality, he was particularly fond of Patek Philippe, proven by the frequency with which he was photographed wearing a reference 2499 perpetual calendar chronograph, of which he appeared to own two. The majority of the collection was sold at Christie’s New York October 1997 auction, with a few of the pieces resurfacing over the years, including a reference 3450 automatic perpetual calendar, a reference 1579 chronograph, and a selection of wrist and pocket watches being offered at Christie’s New York in June 2018.
One of Blanc’s personal Patek Philippe reference 2499 4th series, a model which he wore frequently
In addition to the watches, Mel Blanc’s collection of cars that he amassed together with his son was extensive. With a clear affection for Ferrari, he owned multiple examples from the brand, as well as other oddities including an Edsel Citation, a marque established by Ford in the late 1950s that only lasted three years as the cars were so badly received.
The majority of the collection was sold by Christie’s (when they maintained a car department) in their 1997 Pebble Beach auction, and among the cars offered were: a 1957 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster, 1972 Ferrari 365 GTC/4, 1957 Ford Thunderbird F Series Supercharged Convertible, 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spider Conversion, 1974 Dino 246 GTS and a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spider.
Blanc’s 1967 Ferrari 275/4 which now resides with a private collector, courtesy of Gooding & Co.
Also included was a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 (10511) in a delightfully appropriate Giallo Fly, a shade matching that of Tweety Bird rather closely. Among the ultimate iterations of the 275 model - save for the alloy bodied and competition models - it features a longer nose to improve high speed stability and 4-cam engine with increased horsepower over the earlier two-cam cars. The car was later sold again, at Gooding & Co.'s 2013 Amelia Island auction, for 1.65M USD including premium.
Blanc’s Daytona Spider, which was also the star of the 1976 movie “The Gumball Rally”
Perhaps the most interesting car in the collection at the time of the Christie's 1997 Pebble Beach auction was the 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spider, chassis number 14829. Not only is it an extremely rare, factory original Daytona Spider (one of only 121 produced by the factory), but it is also probably the most famous example, being the exact car that started in the 1976 movie “The Gumball Rally”. Immortalised on screen thanks to the rear view mirror being removed before the line uttered by the character Franco Bertollini, “The first rule of Italian driving: what's behind me is not important”, it was one of two Daytona Spiders used for film, the other of which, chassis 16467, was damaged during production and eventually rebodied by Luigi Chinetti as a Michelotti styled NART Spyder.
Conversely, 14829 remained extremely well preserved over the years, always being looked after by the best specialists in California, and it was sparingly used by Mel and Noel Blanc during their ownership. All of this resulted in it being one of the most desirable Daytona Spiders in existence with its low mileage and honest condition being evident when it was offered once more, this time by RM at their Monterey sale in 2013, selling for 1.65M USD all in.
Warner Bros’ tribute to Mel Blanc, titled “Speechless”
Mel sadly passed away on the 10th of July 1989 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverley Grove, with his wife Estella and Noel at his side. The epitaph on his tombstone at Hollywood Forever Cemetery reads proudly “That’s all folks”, so fitting a career defined by his time at Warner Brothers. Mel is not only remembered for his craft as a voice actor, but also defined by his legacy as a top-tier collector of cars and watches, both of which he did the great honour, and privilege, of passing on to his son Noel, for everyone to enjoy in years to follow. It is incredible to think of the number of people who have experienced the joy of hearing the many characters he gave voices to over the years, something which continues today and will no doubt remain timeless for generations to follow through the words of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and all of Mel’s many personalities.
Another shot of Blanc in the sound booth with added illustrations of Warner Bros. characters, courtesy of Christie’s
Another angle of Blanc's Daytona Spider showing its unusual grey-painted nose, courtesy of RM Sotheby's