Mel Blanc had to record Barney Rubble lines from a hospital bed after a terrible car wreck
The Man of a Thousand Voices was bedridden for months.
Image: The Everett Collection
In 1964, Jan & Dean scored a Top 10 hit with their tune "Dead Man's Curve." Like the Beach Boys, the pop duo was known for songs about surfing and hot rods. This "teenage tragedy" song tells the tale of a drag race through the streets of Hollywood, West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip. The Dead Man's Curve was a particularly dangerous bend in the road as Sunset nears UCLA.
Three years earlier, Mel Blanc was driving that very stretch of road. The cartoon actor was best known as the voice behind Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. He delivered the immortal lines, "What's up, doc?" and "That's all folks!" But on January 24, 1961, "The Man of a Thousand Voices" had just finished work on The Flintstones. The pioneering primetime series had wrapped production on its first season the prior day. Hanna-Barbera had hired Blanc to voice Barney Rubble, who they envisioned as a "pre-historic Art Carney." Blanc was not keen on impressions, so he crafted a more unique voice.
A college student headed the opposite way lost control of his vehicle, hopped the center line and caused a head-on collision with Blanc's car.
"I broke just about everything a guy can break in that wreck," Blanc told a UPI reporter months later. "I fractured bones in my spine, arm, legs, chest and even my head. One of the firemen who extricated me from the car said he could have put me in a sack."
Blanc spent six weeks in a UCLA hospital. During that time, production had begun on season two of The Flintstones. Hanna-Barbera brought in Daws Butler, the ace animation actor behind characters such as Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound, as an emergency back-up Barney Rubble.
Butler can be heard as the voice of Barney in five early season-two episodes, beginning with "The Hit Song Writers." (The others are "Droop-Along Flintstone," "Fred Flintstone Woos Again," "The Rock Quarry Story" and "The Little White Lie.") Butler's take on the character was far more of an Art Carney impersonation.
It might have been a greater number of episodes without Blanc, had it not been for the help of Mel's son, Noel.
After being discharged from the hospital, Blanc continued recovering in a hospital bed at home. With a cast covering his body from his "chest to his toes," Blanc was bedridden for a further 90 days. Nevertheless, he went back to work.
Two semi-trucks from the studio delivered recording equipment to the Blanc home. Noel set up a studio around the hospital bed.
In April, Blanc once again voiced Barney for the episode "The Soft Touchables."
"I’m grateful the accident didn’t hurt my voice," Blanc told the press. But if you listen closely, you can hear a difference in how Barney speaks — his voice is lower. You can see a photo of a bedridden Blanc recording with castmates Bea Benaderet (Betty) and Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma) here and here.
Meanwhile, around that same time in early April 1961, Los Angeles County approved nearly a quarter of a million dollars to straighten the curves on Sunset Boulevard.