The Coyote Within
Melvin Jerome Blank was born shortly after the dawn of the twentieth century and grew up on the west cost of the United States. Sometime in his teens he changed the spelling of his last name in response to a teacher’s bullying comment that he’d grow up to become his last name…”a blank”. At the age of 19, he became the youngest conductor of an orchestra in the U.S. Also at age 19 he began a career as a voice actor on radio. He later married his female costar and by his late 20’s was a regular on the Jack Benny Program, voicing several roles and sound effects. When Jack Benny moved to television in the 1950’s, Mel Blanc went with him.
Mel Blanc had begun to work in theatrical cartoon short films in the mid 1930’s. He became a popular voice actor for Warner Brothers and debuted the Looney Tunes character Bugs Bunny in the 1940’s. Mel Blanc was the first voice actor ever to receive screen credit and became known as the “Man of a Thousand Voices”. Clearly he did not grow up to be a “blank”.
From Tweety Bird to Yosemite Sam, Mel Blanc had an exceptional vocal range. While it was his Bugs Bunny that earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of only four cartoon characters to have one, many remember Mel Blanc as the sophisticated, upper class voice of Wile. E. Coyote, the beleaguered trickster antagonist of the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons. In 2013, Wile E. Coyote made T. V. Guide’s “Sixty Nastiest Villains of All Time” list.
Creator Chuck Jones claimed he based the character of the coyote on a Mark Twain novel. Modeling the facial expressions after fellow animator Ken Harris, Jones developed his character using Twain’s own words: “a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry.” Many, however, believed an American Indian mythology also had some influence on this character.
The Lakota tribe had a mythology entitled “The Wily Coyote”. The coyote was a trickster spirit who wandered across the plains with another spirit Iktome. Iktome was a spider spirit and legend tells that, when the two were out one day, Coyote recognized the spirit of Iya in a nearby rock. Iya was a spirit of several things in nature, including storms as well as rocks. Because the weather had turned a bit chilly, Coyote took off his blanket coat and put it on Iya to keep the rock spirit warm.
Coyote and Iktome continued on their way until the weather grew really cold and it began to rain. The two spirits quickly sought refuge in a nearby cave. The cave was damp and Coyote soon became quite cold. He urged Iktome to go back to the rock for his coat but the spider could not. A cold wet Coyote walked back to the rock and snatched the coat from Iya, choosing personal comfort over generosity.
Once a bit warmer, the two, Coyote and Iktome resumed their journey and again soon needed to seek shelter from the weather in another cave. Suddenly they heard a great rumbling that seemed to grow louder and closer. Looking out they recognized Iya rolling towards them, devastating everything in his path. Wily Coyote and Iktome the spider spirit ran to escape the giant rock. They swam across a river; they ran through a forest, darting in and out among the trees. Iktome finally outwitted the rock by rolling himself into a ball and vanishing down a hole. Wily Coyote ended up being trampled by Iya the rock.
In the cartoons Roadrunner always manages to escape capture by Wile E. Coyote. In the sixty-plus cartoons featuring Roadrunner and then in others in which Coyote and Bugs Bunny were adversaries, the coyote never won, the victim of his mechanisms of destruction intended for someone else. Creator Jones wrote in his autobiography that “No outside force can harm the Coyote – only his own ineptitude.”
The American Indian mythology was used to illustrate punishment would come to those who disregarded spiritual things. They believed generosity should be genuine and that everything reflected the spirit of life. For us, both versions serve to remind us that we are our own worst enemies. We often live in fear of others and waste our time running instead of using our energies to live with fairness and kindness.