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. 

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JerryWithers 3 months ago
In his autobiography, "That's NOT All, Folks!", Mel related how his insurers, Lloyds of London, refused to pay him because, as they saw it, he was still able to work (while still in the hospital bed and cast)! He added that they weren't probably too surprised when he cancelled his policy with them! :)
Dwight 4 months ago
While Blanc was in the hospital Mary Livingston (Mrs. Jack Benny) insisted that Blanc’s wife stay at their house, because it was closer to the hospital.
RobCertSDSCascap 4 months ago
Legend has it that Bugs Bunny brought him out of the coma!
On January 24th, 1961, Blanc had a nearly-fatal car accident on Sunset Boulevard which put him in a coma for two weeks. He was diagnosed with triple skull bone displacements and fractures on both of his legs and pelvis. After many doctors’ attempts to bring him out of the deep unconsciousness, one of his neurologists tried a different approach and asked Mel, “How are you feeling today, Bugs Bunny?” After a short period of time, in a low voice, he replied, “Eh… just fine, Doc. What’s up?” The doctor then asked if Tweety was in there somewhere, to which he replied: “I tot I taw a puddy tat.” Mel Blanc recovered shortly after and continued to do what he did best, acting voices even when he was at home, recovering. His health worsen in 1989 when he experienced a severe cough while shooting a commercial. The doctors diagnosed him with a coronary artery disease. He passed away only two months later at the age of 81.
I know. I heard his son Noel tell the stories on a morning talk show
in the 1990s. The whole hour was dedicated to voice artists!
My youngest brother and I ended up finding out about this a few days ago. Mel Blanc was a master at his craft.
HerbF 4 months ago
The accident also is why he had a long-gap in his appearances on THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM
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