Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 31, 1894 Fred Allen was born


On this day in 1894, Fred Allen was born.

Monday, May 30, 2016

May 30: Happy Birthday Mel Blanc


By definition, all Radio Stars are voice actors. No one had as many voices as Mel Blanc. Or perhaps, all those voices had Mel Blanc. Several voice actors have been called “the man of a thousand voices” with some degree of exaggeration. Mel's son, Noel, claimed that Mel's count was closer to 1500.

Mel was born in San Francisco, the second son of Frank and Eva Blanc, on May 30, 1908. The family moved to Portland, OR, where Mel attended Lincoln High school. Mel has been always fond of making up voices and clowning. At the age of 16,  he decided to change his last name because a teacher warned him that he could end up that way, a Blank, a nothing. It is hard to imagine someone as good natured being kept down by such a prediction. He began working in vaudeville throughout the Northwest, and at 17 was the youngest orchestra conductor in the country.

Mel's radio career began at KGW in Portland on the show The Hoot Owls. Mel became  popular with his ability to so many voices and character, and in 1932, he left for Hollywood to find everlasting fame. At this time,  fame eluded him, but he did meet and marry Estelle Rosenbaum. The couple returned to Portland, where Mel went to KEX to produce and co-host the late-night Cobweb and Nuts show. By now, Estelle was gaining confidence in her husband's talents, and convinced him to give Hollywood another try.

He found a job with KFWB, a station that belonged to the Warner Brothers Studio. In 1937, Mel found work with Leon Schlesinger Productions, whose cartoons were distributed by Warner Brothers. Mel is best remembered for the many cartoon characters he brought to life in Warner Brothers cartoons, but in some ways it was just a stepping stone.

The animators loved the way Mel brought their drawings to life. When Mel was recording a voice, he would become the character. Noel claimed he could watch his dad working, and even with the speakers turned down he could tell which character he was playing. Mel was not the only voice talent on Schlesinger's payroll, but he was the most versatile. Voice actors rarely got screen credit in cartoons. When Mel thought he deserved a raise, he went to Schlesinger with his demands. Notoriously tight-fisted Schlesinger was not about to give up anything that would eat into his profits, but did agree to credit “Voice characterizations by Mel Blanc” on each cartoon.

Now that Mel's name was appearing on screens across the country, he began to get even more radio work. He became part of the company on The Jack Benny Program as a sort of human sound effects machine. He played Jack's barely-running Maxwell automobile and gave the growls of Jack's pet polar bear, Carmichael. One day Mel told Jack “Mr. Benny... I can talk too!” Jack told his writers to let him, and Mel became Polly the Parrot, a tormented department store clerk, Jack's long suffering violin teacher, and the announcer at the train station ("Train leaving on track five for Anaheim, Azusa and Cu... camonga!").

Mel had plenty of other radio work. He was the friendly postman on the Burns and Allen Show, as well as appearing on Fibber McGee and Molly, Abbot and Costello, and several AFRS programs. He gave voice to Yank magazine's Private Sad Sack. Mel's success on the Jack Benny Program helped him to get his own show on CBS. Unfortunately, Jack's writers did not come along, and the Mel Blanc Show only lasted the '46-'47 season.

Mel still had plenty to keep him busy. He even continued to work after an auto accident left him in a coma for three weeks (few people realize that for the first season of The Flintstones, Barney Rubble was played by a man in a full body cast!)

A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Blvd honors Mel Blanc for his work in radio.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

May 29, 1943: 'The Million Dollar Band' on NBC

 
May 29, 1943: Charlie Spivak was the first leader of The Million Dollar Band which debuted on NBC. The band featured Barry Wood as vocalist. The unusual feature of the show was the awarding each week of five diamond rings.

The band debuted on the talent show entitled "Metropolitan Area Auditions." Charlie Spivak was the first maestro invited to lead the group. The five diamond rings were given to listeners that wrote the most interesting letters about what songs moved them and why.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 26: Happy Birthday, Peggy Lee

Al Jolson, John Wayne, and Peggy Lee were all born on May 26. For Lee, it was 1920, in Jamestown, ND. Lee is celebrated as a gifted songstress who brought to life such hits as Fever, Why Don't You Do Right? and Elmer's Tune. 

Lee sang in Benny Goodman's orchestra from 1941 til 1943 before moving on to a solo recording career and roles in several hit films. She would then win a Grammy in 1969 for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance for her song "Is That All There Is?"

Naturally, Ms. Lee spent her share of time on the radio, appearing on Bing Crosby's Philco Radio Time many a time, as well as Crosby's Chesterfield Presents the Bing Crosby Show. She also appeared in many sustaining broadcasts.

Lee contributed to the world of music as a bombastic vocalist, a shining star of the Big Band Era.