At lunch with his wife Katherine (Kat), our mutual friend Ted Bonnitt, who brought us together, and me, Noel Blanc was doing what he does best, sharing personal reminiscences of our area as he experienced it. (This column is a continuation from Dec. 21).
There once was a time when Ocean Park was an entity unto itself, Noel says, and he’d know. He’s one of the area’s longest-time residents, whose exceedingly fit, 78-year-old life is interwoven with our Bay City.
“Pier and Marine Avenues were the original entrance to the Ocean Park Pier, before it became Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in 1958, and there was a long-running battle between Ocean Park, Santa Monica and Los Angeles about where one began and the other ended. When they finally decided to tear down Ocean Park Pier to build POP, the entry was in Santa Monica, and the exit was in L.A.”
He attended the opening night of POP. “It was great. My dad (Mel Blanc, the “man of 1000 voices”) came down with Jack Benny and me, everyone in a suit and tie, such a cosmopolitan atmosphere. For the first year, POP beat Disneyland’s attendance but when the chilly winter weather hit, people stayed away, it lost tremendous numbers, and went downhill.”
VIVA LAS VEGAS
During his very successful commercial producing career, Noel created radio campaigns for such giants as Coca Cola (“Things Go Better with Coke”) along with Chrysler, Ford, Pontiac and Plymouth, and he also handled the opening of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. “The Teamsters were the mortgage holders, and they were controlled by the Mafia. So they put Doris Day on title as a 25% owner, because she was squeaky clean.”
He worried about the consequences after one of his ideas for the opening backfired; he suggested the hotel offer free R&R to members of the military before its official opening, earning the hotel good press in the bargain. But when they trashed the place, Noel thought he’d get the blame. Fortunately, he didn’t.
For a time, Mel Blanc (renowned for Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and dozens of Looney Tunes cartoon voices) moved the family to Beverly Hills. That’s when a youngster named Eric Douglas stopped by for Halloween. Soon Noel was invited to watch a movie in his Dad’s — movie star Kirk Douglas — projection room, a few blocks away.
“I was maybe 30, and Kirk 52, and we became the best of friends. We’d bike together, have lunch, travel together, rent helicopters to tour Tasmania or Canada, or take in the rapids in Jasper National Park; we even walked through the Pentagon together.” The day after our lunch, Noel and Kat were planning to attend Kirk’s 101st birthday.
Noel loves flying helicopters (see the Dec. 21 column) and just one word explains why he bought one: “Traffic!”
He was once called upon to use his helicopter to chase an enormous goose, who’d situated itself dead center of the runway at Santa Monica Airport so planes could neither take off nor land. “I got it as far as Lincoln Boulevard, thinking that was enough. But as I was flying up the Malibu coast, I got another call, the goose came back. I turned the helicopter back to the airport, chased it farther out, and this time it stayed away.”
In 1948, his father’s national radio show, The Mel Blanc Show, was set in the fictitious “Mel Blanc’s Fix-It Shop.” Mel’s retired parents were looking for something to do, so Mel opened an actual hardware store, “Mel Blanc’s Fix-It Shop” at 48 Market Street in Venice, which they ran. With people stopping in just asking for Mel, the shop only lasted about 3 years, “till my grandfather said, enough already.”
Noel worked with Mel as a director on comedy recordings, radio and TV for 30 years. And Katherine Blanc, Noel’s wife, wrote for Mel’s shows. She’s also the author of 13 books, the latest an illustrated children’s book “Melvin the Mouth” (Penguin-Random House), about the young Mel Blanc, before he became the Man of 1,000 voices.
Noel says, “The book is all about how in grammar school, Mel always made funny sounds in class, copying people’s voices, getting lousy marks, getting kicked out, coming back and showing off with his voice.” It will soon be produced as an audio book: no doubt with lots of vocal effects.
Mel told Noel one day, “I’d better teach you the voices, I’m not always going to be here.” And Noel does do those voices but “Only a few lines at a time, not long form. Mel created those characters; he could sing and even harmonize as those characters. He had a one-of-a-kind, impossible 8-octave range and he never got hoarse, even for extended periods as (the gritty-voiced) Yosemite Sam. In fact, his vocal cords were studied by a doctor, who concluded that they were as thick, if not thicker, than (legendary opera singer) Caruso’s.”
Noel Blanc tells an amazing story about being invited to Neverland to meet, and later fly with, the late superstar, Michael Jackson. But you’ll have to ask him about that yourself. You might find him at the Sunday Main Street Farmers Market. Just ask around for “The Table.” Soon he’ll turn his memories into a podcast, so stay tuned!
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.