On 13 June a selection of watches from The Collection of Mel Blanc, the man who gave voice to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Barney Rubble and hundreds of other Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera characters, will be offered in New York
In a career spanning six decades, Mel Blanc (1908-1989) helped develop nearly 400 characters and provided voices for around 3,000 animated cartoons. Not for nothing was he known as ‘the man of 1,000 voices’.
It is estimated that each day more than 250 million people around the world hear his voice — or, more accurately, the voices he gave to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Pie and many other Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters.
As well as uttering catchphrases such as ‘What's up Doc?’ and ‘I tawt I taw a puddy tat!’, Mel Blanc also voiced characters such as Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn and Speedy Gonzalez, and beyond Warner Bros. gave voice to Woody Woodpecker, Captain Caveman, and Barney Rubble and Dino of The Flintstones.
Less well-known than his vast catalogue of cartoon greats is Mel Blanc’s extensive watch collection, which included more than 500 watches and clocks, many of which were on display in glass cabinets in his California home.
Blanc began collecting in the early 1940s, when he was working for Leon Schlesinger Productions, which later became the Warner Bros. Cartoons studio. By the time of his death in 1989, his personal museum had grown to contain perpetual calendars, repeaters and automatons. Some of these pieces were acquired directly from the Swiss watch factories in La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle that he visited several times a year.
It was Blanc’s wife, Estelle, who first recognised his preoccupation with time. She was always waiting for her husband to study the watches displayed in every jewellery store, antique shop or museum they passed. Finally, in 1946, Estelle picked out a Patek Philippe minute repeating pocket watch in an antique store in Venice, California as a birthday gift.
While Blanc was fully aware of Patek and its reputation, he was shocked when he found out that his wife had spent $375 on the watch. He was a lot happier, however, when he later saw the same watch at Tiffany’s in New York at a substantially higher price.
If Mel Blanc was captivated by Patek Philippe — and he was frequently pictured wearing his beloved perpetual calendar, reference 2499, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest ever watch models — he also collected watches by many other makers, as well as timepieces that carried interesting provenance. An example of the latter is a rose-gold oversized Zenith chronograph (below), which once belonged to actor Mario Lanza, whose family were friends and neighbours to the Blancs.
Mel Blanc’s fascination with accuracy and precision probably stemmed from the many years he spent working as a musician, conductor, host performer and voice artist in radio, television, movies and cartoons. They were roles that all demanded a mastery of split-second timing, which might also explain why his other great passion was cars.
One of Mel Blanc’s closest friends was Jack Benny, the legendary comedian and vaudeville actor. In the Jack Benny radio show, Blanc provided sound effects, among others, for Carmichael the polar bear, an outspoken parrot, his Mexican gardener and even the host’s spluttering car. He would turn Benny on to collecting watches, and offered in the sale in New York is a pair of Jaeger LeCoultre cufflinks (above), which Benny gave to Noel Blanc, Mel’s son, on his 13th birthday.
Noel Blanc went on to work with his father voicing characters from the Looney Tunes stable. Following his father’s death, Noel assumed the roles of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil and Porky Pig, to name but a few.
As well as inheriting his father’s vocal talent, Noel also shared his love of timepieces, and enjoyed learning the history of the great watchmakers as told by his father with his many voices. As Mel Blanc liked to say, ‘Our collection is evolutionary.’
Father and son visited watch museums together, and became friends with designers such as Gérald Genta, described as ‘the Fabergé of watches’, and horological experts such as Dr. Helmut Crott.
Blanc’s collection was highly regarded, with some of his vast array of Patek Philippe watches archived and credited in the first publication by Alan Banbery, one of the foremost authorities on Patek Philippe wristwatches. In the 1970s Blanc was made a Fellow of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.
Among the highlights offered at Christie’s is an exceptionally rare 18k-gold and enamel key-wound open-face two-train musical repeating pocket watch, above, with concealed erotic d’amour automaton, made by Henry-Daniel Capt. This watch is one of only four known from Capt’s musical erotic automata collection that was signed by him. Another one, although not so splendid, No. 422, is in the Swiss National Museum.