Actor puts words in wabbit's mouth


Jeff Bergman says he feels a little like Roger Moore, the actor who took over the role of James Bond from Sean Connery -- except that he's up against 50 years of tradition.

In a CBS special tonight, "Bugs Bunny's Creature Features" (8 o'clock, Channel 11), Mr. Bergman gets his widest exposure yet as the voice of the wascally wabbit himself.

In fact, all the cartoon characters in the 11-minute, world-premiere short "Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers" are performed by Mr. Bergman's versatile voice.

But in two other shorts in the show, "The Duxorcist" and "Night of the Living Duck," the voices are still those of veteran Mel Blanc, who died in 1989. The shorts made in 1988 and '89 were xTC the last performances by the originator of Bugs, Daffy Duck and many other Warner Bros. characters. (The singing voice of Daffy in the latter, however, is really crooner Mel Torme.)

"As much as I admire [Blanc], I often wonder what he would think about me doing it," says Mr. Bergman, a 30-year-old Pennsylvanian, who says that meeting Blanc after a speaking appearance when he was still a student at the University of Pittsburgh "was really a turning point for me.

"I followed him back to his hotel and pleaded with him to let me in," recalls Mr. Bergman. He ended up chatting with Blanc for 45 minutes, and was encouraged to pursue voice work.

Ironically, however, he says he had not been a childhood fan of Looney Toons or any other animation, noting, "I really discovered cartoons in college." Instead, he admired and copied impressionists such as Rich Little and Frank Gorshin.

Following Blanc's death, his son Noel initially took over the voice characterizations of Bugs, Daffy Duck and others. But Mr. Bergmansaid the younger Blanc apparently did not want to continue the work, and Warner Bros. subsequently held auditions.

Tonight's show is not really the debut of a new voice for Bugs and company. Mr. Bergman did the voices for a 1990 theatrical short, "Box-Office Bunny." He also did Bugs in two other television specials, "Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue" and "Time Warner Presents the Earth Day Special," and was Daffy in a 1990 special, "Happy Birthday Bugs: 50 Looney Years!"

Mr. Bergman also voiced Bugs in the 1990 Academy Awards show, in an animated presentation sequence for best cartoon. And he was also George Jetson and Mr. Spacely in the 1990 movie "The Jetsons."

The voice actor says he attempts to duplicate the voice of Mel Blanc doing Bugs and the other characters, rather than adding his own interpretations. And he thinks he has it down pretty well.

"I guess I'm going to hope the public thinks so, too," says Mr. Bergman, adding he hopes that good ratings for tonight's show encourage Warner Bros. to produce more such vehicles for the Looney Toon characters.

"They're really proud of this show," he says of the special, noting that none of the art or production work was "farmed out" to cheaper production facilities outside the United States, as is common in much animation work.

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