Mel Blanc and Paul Frees, Two thousand Voices

Technically, all of the players we hear on radio are voice actors.
Except for the more frequent use of computer generated "synthetic speech", when ever we hear a voice without seeing and actor, the role has been filled by a voice actor. This will apply to radio players, animation, video games, amusement park rides, even the voice warning us to "mind the gap" as we step onto the subway. Professional voice actors are justifiably proud of their craft. This is especially true in traditional animation features, where the voice of the character was simply part of the character, and the voice actor's role remains in the background.
A small degree of resentment against the current trend of bringing in A-list actors to voice the starring characters in major releases, is understandable. Certainly the added celebrity of using A-List players in Pixar and Dreamworks animated features can help to sell a feature film. One of the few voice actors to achieve celebrity on his own was Mel Blanc.
It is interesting to compare Mel's career with another voice acting great, Paul Frees. Both got their start in radio. Blanc played on local Portland, Oregon stations KGW and KEX in the mid 1920's before making the move to the Warner Bros radio station in Hollywood, KFWB. In 1936 he moved to CBS radio as well as beginning his association with Leon Schlesinger Productions, the studio which produced the animated cartoon which Warner Bros distributed and mad  Mel Blanc famous.
Paul Frees' radio career was initially cut short when he was drafted for WWII. After earning a Purple Heart at Normandy, he attended art school for a time. Illness in the family forced him to drop out of school and return to radio. He alternated announcing and playing the lead roles in Escape with William Conrad. He had frequent guest roles on Gunsmoke, and starred in the 1949 series The Green Lama as Jethro Dumont. He was showcased in the anthology series The Player which he narrated and played all the scripted parts. Unlike Blanc, much of Frees' movie work went uncredited. He was frequently called upon for voice over and "re-looping", providing the voice for actors who had an accent that was beyond understanding, or whose natural voice was unacceptable for the film. One famous example was Toshiro Mifune's portrayal of Admiral Yamamoto in Midway.
Professor Ludwig von Drake
Professor Ludwig von Drake, noted educator and Donald Duck's uncle. 
Frees worked for nine different animation houses during his career, and voiced many beloved characters. While at Disney he became the in-house "Man of a Thousand Voices", providing much of the narration for The Wonderful World of Disney TV anthology and the original voice of Donald Duck's uncle, Ludwig Von Drake. Frees' association with Disney is best remembered for the voices he gave to the Animatronic features at Disneyland and Disney World, most famously the "Ghost Host" of the Haunted Mansion attraction.
While the majority of Frees' work was uncredited, Blanc managed to get a contractual stipulation giving him credit for his Looney Toon voices (in lieu of a pay raise from Schlesinger). He was able to use this bit of celebrity to further his career, especially in radio as he became a regular feature, if not a regular role, of The Jack Benny Program. Some of the roles Blanc played for Benny included Jack's wheezing Maxwell automobile, Polly the Parot, Jack's long suffering violin instructor, the train station announcer, and Carmichael the polar bear. Benny considered Blanc to be one of his closest friends from the show. Jack's daughter Joan said "nobody else from the show could make him laugh the way Mel could." Another report is of studio audiences laughing while Jack struggled to keep a straight face while interacting with Mel at the microphone.
YamamotoThe most striking similarity between these two great talents is the range and variety voices and characters they were able to create. The only thing more amazing than the fact that Tweety Bird and Bugs Bunny came from the same actor as Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam is that the same basso profundo which opened so many episodes of Escape also gave us the Jolly Green Giant's sidekick the Little Green Sprout and the Pillsbury Doughboy.
One other bit of advertising trivia;  Mel Blanc  created the original voice for Toucan Sam, the spokesbird for Froot Loops cereal, but when the ad agency decided the bird should have an upper-crust British accent, the character was taken over by Paul Frees.


  1. I've said for years, that if Paul and Mel are both "The Man of a Thousand Voices" then there were 2000 voices to pull from on the original "Secret Squirrel cartoon


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