Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

545 Topics: Famous Americans – Mel Blanc; American Presidents – William McKinley; to fill in versus to complete; telephone phrases used to tell someone you can’t talk now; so long

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 545.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 545. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

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On this Café, we’re going to talk about the American entertainer Mel Blanc. We’ll also talk about the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley, a man who became president by never leaving his house. It’s true, as you’ll soon see. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Our first topic today is one of the most famous voices of the movies during the twentieth century – Melvin Jerome Blanc, known more popularly as Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc was born in 1908, right here in California – in San Francisco, California. From a young age, Mel loved music and was a very talented “musician” – that is, someone who was very good at music. It’s not surprising, then, that he began his career, his work career, in the radio industry, or the radio business.

By the 1930s, Mel was hosting his own radio show. Nowadays, if Mel were getting into the entertainment industry, he’d probably have his own podcast. But this was the 1930s and podcasting had not yet been invented. So, Mel was a radio show host. Now, at the time, radio shows did more than play music. The people on these shows also told stories, stories just like you would see on a television today – dramas, and comedies, and so forth.

Often there were many different actors who would play the different roles on these comedies and dramas, and each “character,” each person in the story, would of course have to have a different voice. The different roles or characters were played by actors and actresses just as they are now in a TV show. The problem for Mel Blanc’s show, however, was that the radio station he worked for didn’t have enough money to hire actors. “To hire” (hire) means to give someone a job.

The radio station didn’t have money to hire actors. So, if Blanc wanted different voices for the different characters on his radio program, he had to create the voices himself. And this is exactly what made Mel Blanc so famous – his voices. Blanc was very good at creating different voices. He was so good that in 1937 he was hired by a large “movie studio” – that is, a large company that makes movies – called “Warner Brothers.”

He was hired to do what we would now call “voice-over work.” A “voice-over” is when a person’s voice is heard but you don’t actually see that person. In “animated movies,” movies that are basically cartoons, all of the voices are basically voice-overs – that is, you hear the voices of often famous actors, but you don’t see their faces. Mel Blanc’s voice-overs, however, were a little different than the kinds of voice-overs you think about nowadays for an animated movie.

Mel had many different voices. This talent of being able to produce different voices is still, of course, one that you can observe in modern entertainment. The television show The Simpsons has different actors who have voice-over parts for different characters. They’re able, in other words, to produce different voices. One actor can play several different characters in the animated shows. That’s what Warner Brothers wanted. It wanted someone who could do the voices of different characters for their new animated movies. So they hired Mel Blanc in 1937.

Soon after hiring Blanc, Warner Brothers went on to create a series of animated characters as part of its “Looney Tunes” show. These included characters you may be familiar with in your own language, although they may have different names and almost certainly different voices. These would include Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Foghorn Leghorn, and everyone’s favorite, Road Runner – beep-beep! Mel Blanc created and did voices for each of these characters, so one man created the voices for several different characters.

Blanc worked in Hollywood for the next 50 years. During that time, he created the voices – in English, of course – of characters in over 3,000 different cartoons. He worked mostly for Warner Brothers and for their Looney Tunes series, but he also did work for another famous company, movie company, called Hanna-Barbera. Hanna-Barbera produced popular animated television shows in the 1960s, shows that I grew up watching, such as The Flintstones, which was a show about prehistoric men, and The Jetsons, which was a show about the future.

Blanc created the voices for some of the main characters in these shows, including Barney Rubble in The Flintstones and Cosmo Spacely in The Jetsons. In addition to his work in animation, Blanc also returned to radio in the 1950s and 60s, and was a regular guest on popular shows such as Abbott and Costello, and The Jack Benny Show.

In 1961, Blanc was sadly involved in a terrible car accident in Hollywood, here in Los Angeles. He almost died and was, in fact, in a coma for two weeks. A “coma” (coma) is when you are basically unconscious. You are asleep for a long period of time. After two weeks in the coma, one of Blanc’s doctors decided to ask him some questions to see if they could wake him up.

The doctor asked if Bugs Bunny was available to talk. Now, Blanc, who hadn’t spoken since the accident, answered in one of Bugs Bunny’s most famous lines from his cartoons, “What’s up, doc?” Blanc used the voice that he used to play the part of Bugs Bunny. “What’s up?” means “What’s going on, what’s happening?” And “doc” here refers, of course, to the doctor.

From this point on, over the next seven months, Blanc recovered from this accident and was able to go back to work. He continued to record characters right up until the time of his death in 1989. After he died, the studio stopped producing shows with those same characters because they could never find someone who could do the voices the way Mel Blanc did it. They could never find anyone to imitate – to sound exactly the same – for the voices of those characters.

Fortunately, many of those shows can still be seen on television or, nowadays, I suppose, online. And if you listen to them in English you will be hearing the voice of Mel Blanc, one of the most famous voice-over artists of the twentieth century.

Now let’s turn to our second topic, the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley. William McKinley was born in Ohio in 1843. When he was 18 years old, McKinley joined the Army and fought in the American Civil War on the Union side – the Northern or winning side, we may also describe it as. After the war, he returned to Ohio and became a lawyer. In 1871, he married a woman named Ida, and together they had two daughters. Sadly, both daughters died in childhood, something that Ida was never really able to recover from.

After the death of the second child, she began to get sick herself and suffer from seizures. A “seizure” (seizure) is a medical condition in which a person suddenly becomes unconscious and often begins to shake. Seizures can be quite dangerous, and Ida suffered from them for the rest of her life. But one of the things that made William McKinley such an interesting man, such a popular one, was that he really cared about other people – including, of course, his wife. He stayed with his wife and took care of her for the rest of his life.

McKinley got interested in politics in 1877. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives and would serve in the U.S. House on and off for the next 12 years. One of the political issues that McKinley was most interested in during this period was what was sometimes called a “protective tax,” or more commonly, a “tariff” (tariff). A “tariff” or a protective tax is money that a company has to pay in order to import goods from another country.

In other words, if you want to buy something from, say, Canada, and bring it to the United States and sell it, you, in this period of time, would have had to pay a tax – a “tariff,” a special tax for bringing that product into the United States in order to sell it or even in order to use it. “Tariffs” were very popular in the U.S. during this period because it was thought that the tariffs were needed to protect the growing U.S. manufacturing industries. “Manufacturing” refers to making things.

It was a common economic policy, and still is a common economic policy in many countries, that in order to protect the growing businesses in a country, it is sometimes necessary to protect them from competition from other countries. And so, what some countries do is they tax goods that are brought into a country. They make businesses pay extra money to bring those goods into a country in order to protect the people making those same products in their own country.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a good economic policy. Many economists think it’s a very bad economic policy, but McKinley, among others, supported this policy and voted for tariffs when he was in office, when he was a U.S. representative.

McKinley also believed that the tariffs were necessary not just to protect businesses and business owners, but to protect the workers in those businesses. This is also a common justification or a common reason for tariffs for many people who support them, even today. This relates also to McKinley’s reputation for caring about other people and trying to protect those that needed protecting in his eyes.

When McKinley lost his election for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1891, he returned to Ohio to practice law but soon made friends with a “wealthy,” or rich, businessman by the name of Mark Hanna. Mark Hanna thought that McKinley would make a good governor of the state of Ohio. The “governor” is the leader of a state’s government, just like the president is the leader of the U.S. government, or at least one part of the U.S. government.

McKinley got interested in the job, and in 1892 he won election to the governorship of Ohio. He served as governor until 1896 when he then decided to run for president of the United States as a Republican. As a Republican, he ran against the Democratic candidate, another famous American politician, William Jennings Bryan. William Jennings Bryan, although he never became president, was considered one of the greatest public speakers in the United States during the nineteenth century.

He would go around the country giving speeches during his election, trying to get people to vote for him. In the election of 1896, one of the most important issues was whether the United States should have what is called a “gold standard.” Brian was against the then existing gold standard, and McKinley was for it. Despite Brian’s considerable talents as a speaker, he famously gave a speech in which he said the U.S. was being “crucified on a cross of gold” by sticking with, or continuing with, its economic policy of a gold standard. Brian lost the election of 1896.

The interesting thing is that when McKinley ran for president, he never left his house. Well, he probably left to go to the store and so on, but basically he stayed at his home in Ohio and gave interviews with newspapers and others, but never went out and did what most presidential candidates continue to have to do, which is “campaign” – to go out and actually give speeches.

McKinley didn’t do any of that. He just stayed home and gave interviews, met with people who wanted to meet with him, and by doing that got elected president. It’s doubtful whether anyone would be able to do that today, but McKinley’s policies were popular with Americans and they voted him in as president despite his very unusual strategy, his unusual techniques, for becoming president.

Though McKinley was mostly interested in economics, the most important event of his presidency was something that took place not in the United States, but in the neighboring country of Cuba. At this time, Cuba was under the control of Spain, and Spain was trying to prevent Cuba from becoming independent. There were several popular newspapers in the U.S. that supported Cuban independence and put pressure on McKinley to do something about the independence movement and Spain’s resistance to that movement in Cuba.

McKinley really didn’t want to get involved in Spain’s problems in Cuba, but an unusual event took place in the spring of 1898 that forced him to get involved. One of the U.S. Navy ships that was in Cuba at the time exploded – it suddenly broke apart in a very violent way. Now, this ship – called the U.S.S. Maine (Maine), like the state of Maine – became an important event in forcing McKinley to get involved. According to the newspapers at the time, Spain had blown up the U.S. ship, and this was considered an act of war.

Now, it was many years later that we discovered that the U.S.S. Maine was not blown up by the Spanish, that it exploded due to some sort of accident. However, despite the fact that the Spanish said they weren’t responsible, the U.S. newspapers said they were, and soon after the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine, the U.S. went to war against Spain – not just in Cuba but in other territories that the Spanish held at this time, including the Philippines and Puerto Rico.

McKinley, because of the pressure from the newspapers and others, decided that he had to declare war on Spain, and he did that in 1898. The Spanish-American War, as we now know it, only lasted about three months. The U.S. had considerable advantage over Spain because Cuba, of course, is just 90 miles from the coast of the U.S. The United States won the war quickly. One of the heroes of the Spanish-American War was a lieutenant colonel by the name of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt won a famous battle during the war that made him a national hero.

After the end of the war, Cuba received its independence and the United States received the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. McKinley wasn’t really interested in having territories added to the U.S., and there was a considerable opposition to the U.S. taking on the territories of Spain. However, the Treaty of Paris that ended the war was approved by the U.S. Senate, and eventually McKinley supported the adding of these new territories.

Beginning in that year, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines became part of the U.S. The Philippines were eventually to receive their independence after World War II. Puerto Rico and Guam are still part of the U.S. as the result of the Spanish-American War. They became territories of the U.S. They are not states, however.

I should mention here briefly that there was another territory added to the U.S. during McKinley’s presidency and that was the territory of Hawaii, which was made part of the U.S. in 1898, although that had absolutely nothing to do with the Spanish-American War. We don’t have time to go into the story of the then territory, now state of Hawaii, but it did happen during McKinley’s presidency.

Oddly enough. McKinley is probably most well known nowadays because there is a mountain named after McKinley – not in Hawaii or in Puerto Rico or in Guam, but in Alaska. The name was given to that mountain, which is the largest mountain in North America, not after McKinley’s death, but before his death by one of his supporters, although the U.S. government eventually recognized that as the name – the official name – of the mountain in the early twentieth century.

More recently, the U.S. government has decided it is going to call the mountain most Americans still know as Mt. McKinley “Denali,” which is the name the indigenous people of Alaska use for it and oddly most Alaskans use for it. It’s a little confusing, I know. Anyway, the war made McKinley even more popular than he was before, and once again running against William Jennings Bryan in 1900, he won very easily.

After he won the election, in the fall of 1901, during his second term of office, he took a trip around the United States and eventually ended up in the city of Buffalo, which is located in the northern part of New York State. At this time, Buffalo was having a commercial conference, and oddly enough McKinley, who had always been a supporter of tariffs of protective taxes for U.S. businesses, said that he wanted to open up the U.S. to business from other countries – to reduce the tariffs.

However, he never got a chance to do that because an “anarchist” – a person who doesn’t believe in government – shot McKinley on September seventh, 1901. McKinley died a week later of his injuries. When a president dies, you may know, the vice president becomes president. Although it’s somewhat unusual, McKinley did not have the same vice president when he won the election in 1900 as he did when he won the election in 1896. He changed his vice president, not because he wanted to. His vice president died in 1899, and that sort of forced him to pick another person.

In this case, he picked that Spanish-American War hero we mentioned, Theodore Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt became president upon McKinley’s assassination, or killing. McKinley was the third president to be assassinated up to that time. Presidents Lincoln and Garfield were assassinated previously in the nineteenth century.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Sergey (Sergey) in Ukraine. The question has to do with the difference between “to fill in” and “to complete.” Both the phrasal verb “to fill (fill) in” and the verb “to complete” can mean the same thing. They can both mean to put information onto a piece of paper that contains a series of questions or places where information is requested.

For example, you may go to the government offices and get a driver’s license. When you do that, they’ll give you a piece of paper, and the piece of paper will have a place for you to put your name, your address, your phone number, and so forth. We would call that piece of paper a “form” (form). You would “fill in” the form or “complete” the form with your information. You can also “fill in” a form online or “complete” a form online. So that’s one definition of both terms that is basically the same.

However, “to fill in” can also mean to give someone information that they request or require, often because the person was unable to go to the meeting where the information was discussed. So, if you have a meeting at your company in the morning and someone wasn’t there, that person may ask you, “Could you fill me in on what happened in the meeting this morning?”

Notice that you “fill someone in on” something. It’s weird having another preposition there, but that’s what we say. You can “fill someone in on your life” – give them the details, the information about your life that the other person might want. It is in some ways related to that first definition of giving information, “filling in,” but we use it in a slightly different context.

“To complete” also has other definitions, one of which is to finish something. “I need to complete my homework” – I need to finish my homework. Or, “You need to complete your assignment.” “You need to complete your project.” You need to finish them. You need to do everything so that they are done, finished, completed.

Our second question comes from Phuoc (Phuoc) in Vietnam. The question has to do with the expression “hold on.” “To hold on” is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to wait or stop briefly. We often use this to ask someone to stop talking or doing something for a short amount of time. For example, you may be talking to someone on the phone and your son comes up to you and starts asking you a question. You may turn to your son and say, “Hold on, I’m talking to someone here.” You’re asking the person to wait a short amount of time.

We may also use this when someone is doing something and we want them to stop, or at least stop temporarily. If your child starts running towards the door, you may say, “Hold on! Wait, stop – you can’t go out yet.” “To hold on” can also mean to keep something, especially something that is important to you. “I’m going to hold on to my memories of this moment.” I’m going to keep them. I’m going to make sure I don’t lose them.

Someone may tell you to “hold on to your receipt” – the piece of paper a store gives you when you buy something that proves that you bought it. You may want to hold on to your receipt in case you want to return it – in case it doesn’t work and you want to bring it back to the store and get another one. That’s another use of the verb or the phrasal verb “to hold on” – to keep something.

Finally, Ric (Ric) from Brazil wants to know the meaning of the expression “So long.” “So long” means goodbye. It’s an informal way of saying goodbye. “See you later. So long.” It’s a little old-fashioned. You don’t hear it as much anymore. People nowadays would probably just say, “Good-bye,” or “See you later,” or simply, “See you.”

If you’re a fan of the musical, The Sound of Music (and who isn’t), you may remember there’s a song that uses the expression “so long” to mean “good-bye.” If you remember the movie, the children have to go to bed because the parents are having a big formal party. And so they sing a little song to all of the guests of the party as they are walking up the stairs, going to bed. It’s one of my favorite songs in the movie.

Each of the children has a different verse. They each say, or rather sing, something a little different. Each part begins with, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen goodnight,” and then each child says something a little different. Martha sings, “I hate to go and leave this pretty sight.” And then the next child sings their part.

And then at the end, all the children are up on the second floor of this big house and they wave goodnight and all of the guests of the party say, “Good-bye.” It’s a wonderful ending to that particular scene – then the Nazis come later and, you know, there are some bad things that happen too, but it’s a nice little part of the movie.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

role – the character an actor or actress plays in a play, TV show, movie

* The actor Tom Hanks has played many different roles in movies, including a man named Forest Gump, an astronaut, a delivery person, and a lawyer.

to hire – to employ someone in a paying job or position

* How many temporary employees do we need to hire for the holiday season?

voice-over – a voice heard in a television show or movie without that person’s image being shown to audiences

* In this children’s show, the audience hears a voice-over telling a story while puppets act it our on screen.

animated – images or movies created by showing a series of drawings or pictures quickly one after the other to make them appear to be moving

* The animated film Finding Nemo tells the story of a young fish caught by a human, and the fish’s father traveling across the ocean to find him.

coma – a long state of unconsciousness (deep sleep) caused by an injury

* The man had been in a coma for nearly 10 years so when he surprised doctors and his wife by waking up.

to imitate – to do something in the exact same way as someone else

* Little children often imitate their parents and will pretend to cook a meal using toy pots and pans while their mothers or fathers are cooking dinner.

seizure – a medical condition in which a person becomes unconscious and his or her body begins to shake in a violent and uncontrolled way

* When the boy’s seizure began, he fell to the floor and his mother rushed to get a pillow placed under his head to protect it from hitting the hard surface.

protective tax – an amount of money that must be paid to the government by people bringing items to the U.S. from other countries to sell, intended to protect sellers within the country

* The small clothing companies supports a protective tax so that companies bringing in clothing from overseas have to raise prices.

strategy – a careful plan that is used to achieve a certain goal

* The team had a strategy for winning the game, which involved getting the ball early in the game and never allowing the other team to gain possession.

to explode – to suddenly break apart into small pieces in a violent way

* The bomb exploded in the busy marketplace injuring over 20 people.

territory – an area of land controlled by the U.S. government, but without the same rights as a state

* Guam is a U.S. territory with an economy supported mainly by Asian tourism.

anarchist – a person who believes that government and laws are not necessary and people should have complete freedom

* A group of anarchists tried to destroy the government by blowing up buildings and taking important members of the government as prisoners.

to fill in – to write down requested information in the space provided, usually on a form or application

* At the doctor’s office, Jessie filled in the forms asking for her medical history.

to complete – to write down requested information; to finish making or doing something; to take actions so that a task is done

* When will they complete the repairs on the bridge and allow cars to use it again?

to hold on – to wait or stop briefly, often used to ask someone to pause in conversation or action

* Hold on! Don’t tell me how the book ends. I haven’t finished reading it yet.

so long – goodbye

* Kaila said so long to her brother before his started on his two-week camping trip.

What Insiders Know
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which was previously known as the Old Executive Office Building, is an important “landmark” (something that is easily seen and recognized, and associated with a particular city or place) in Washington, DC. Located at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, it is very close to the “White House” (the building where the U.S. President lives and works).

The large building was “constructed” (built) between 1871 and 1888, originally for the State, War, and Navy Departments. The architecture has an “impressive” (getting attention and praise) style, and when it was built, it was the city’s largest office building, with 566 rooms and almost two miles (3.2 kilometers) of “corridors” (hallways). But by the mid-1950s it was “seen as” (considered to be) too inefficient, so there were plans to “demolish” (destroy) it. However, it has remained “intact” (whole; in one piece) and has “undergone” (experienced) many “renovations” (changes and improvements to a building).

Today, the building “is home to” (contains the offices of) the Office of Management and Budget and the National Security Council, among some other “agencies” (departments) that are part of the Office of the President. Beginning with former Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (1961-1963), the Office of the Vice President has been in this building, with every Vice President since then using an office in the building. In addition, several presidents have used offices in the building for various purposes. For example, President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) had to use an office in the building when the “Oval Office” (the room in the White House where the U.S. President works) was damaged by a fire in 1929. And former President Richard Nixon (1969-1974) “maintained” (kept; had) a private office in the building during his presidency.