A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Did Mel Blanc hate carrots?

November 4, 2008

Did Mel Blanc hate carrots? I've heard three stories:

1. He hated carrots and had to spit them out after recording the Bugs Bunny dialogue.
2. He spit them out for convenience, not taste.
3. He didn't spit them out at all and I shouldn't believe everything I read.

So which is it?

SDSTAFF Rico replies:

It's story #2.

To bring any stragglers up to speed: Mel Blanc was the best-known voice actor of the 20th century. While he made countless radio and TV show appearances (including some legendary comedy bits with Jack Benny) and did some high-profile voice work for Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the 60s and 70s (notably as Barney Rubble), he's most famous today for having provided the voices for much of the classic Warner Brothers cartoon-character roster: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, and above all Bugs Bunny.

Bugs made his debut in the 1940 short A Wild Hare, with Blanc behind the microphone. During the two years prior to this Blanc had worked on cartoons featuring a precursor to Bugs (he later recalled that the character had been known as Happy Rabbit), but he used a different voice for these, employing a laugh similar to that made famous by Woody Woodpecker. (Blanc was, as it happens, the original voice of Woody Woodpecker as well, but when he signed an exclusive contract with Warner Brothers, he had to quit working for Walter Lantz Productions, where the Woody shorts were made.)

The sound of Bugs chomping on a carrot while delivering a wisecrack was a key element from the beginning, but a technical problem soon became apparent: after taking a noisy bite of carrot, Blanc would have to chew for a while before he could swallow enough of it to deliver his next line. Other crunchy but more easily chewed foods (apples, celery) were tried, but the resulting sounds were deemed insufficiently carrotlike. The simplest and best solution, it turned out, was for Blanc to briefly chew on an actual carrot, then spit it out and go on with the voiceover. Ultimately a spittoon became a fixture in Mel's recording-studio setup.

The fact that Blanc didn't consume any of the carrot used during Bugs sessions gave rise to the mistaken notion that he was either allergic to carrots or hated their taste. In his 1988 autobiography, he concedes that he wasn't particularly fond of carrots ("at least not raw") but makes clear that the big problem was the impossibility of chewing and swallowing them quickly.

I was lucky enough to have been acquainted with Blanc in the 1970s, and researching this topic gave me an excuse to contact another man in the voiceover field I've admired for many years: Chuck McKibben, who was operations manager at Mel Blanc Studios in Hollywood from 1972 to 1976 and now operates a voiceover production house and instructional academy in Philadelphia. Chuck graciously spent 45 minutes on the phone with me reminiscing about Blanc, and wasted no time in clearing up the carrot-allergy rumors: "The story about him being allergic to carrots is nothing more than an urban legend. He didn't necessarily like carrots – for that matter, Mel wasn't fond of anything healthy – but there was nothing like the crunch of a carrot. Mel knew that. So he'd chomp, spit it out in the nearby spittoon, and say his line. Mel Blanc was a true professional."

Blanc died in 1989 at age 81; his epitaph reads – you guessed it – "That's all, folks."

References

Blanc, Mel and Bashe, Philip, That's Not All Folks (1988)

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