Saturday, May 17, 2008
Century Birthday - Mel Blanc
The legendary Man of 1000 Voices was born 100 years ago today. Mel Blanc was born Melvin Jerome Blank to Frederick and Eva (Katz) Blank in San Francisco, California. Mel arrived four years after an older brother, Henry Charles.
By 1910 the family was living comfortably at 3332 Twenty First Street* in the Mission District of San Francisco and for at least a while there, they had a live-in servant. The two story house still stands today having survived the past 108 years, including 1906 when the Great Quake and subsequent fire leveled much of the city.
Shortly after Mel turned six, the family had moved to Portland, Oregon. For a few years the family made their home at 225-1/2 Sherman Street. By 1920 they has moved to another home at 543 SW Fifth Avenue. A decade later April of 1930 they would be listed next door at 541. While growing up Mel developed a good singing voice and he also learned the violin. After he graduated from Lincoln High school he found work at the local radio station KGW as whatever was needed; singer, announcer, musician. He would eventually become part of the station's orchestra, though at this point playing the tuba. He moved for a brief time back to San Francisco when he found work with the much larger KPO radio orchestra. In 1930 he was offered the job of pit conductor at the Orpheum Theater back in Portland. Mel jumped at the opportunity.
During this period however, the vaudeville circuit was beginning to cool down with most of the major acts migrating to radio. Mel would soon find himself working in radio, and again back in San Francisco at station KGO. He was emcee of "The Road Show," a variety program, but the position also afforded him the chance to do a fair amount of acting -- often using his growing library of different dialects. In 1932 he succumbed to his urge to seek his fortunes in Hollywood and he soon packed his car and headed south.
* I have several sources that confirm the family at this address from 1910 through late 1914. Mel specifically noted in his wonderful 1988 autobiography, That's Not All Folks! that they lived at Bush and Divisadero streets; where they may have been prior to 1910.