''Beep Beep'': Background artist Paul Julian and Road Runner's iconic catchphrase
Scripts say, "Beep beep," but Road Runner actually says "Hmeep hmeep!"
With just two syllables, the Looney Tunes character Road Runner sprinted into the hearts of the cartoon-viewing public. Road Runner was the prey but never the victim, effortlessly evading Wile Ethelbert Coyote over and over again. Aided by the poor design of many, an ACME product, Road Runner relies on only his speed and natural guile to outmaneuver the inept predator.
The beloved speedster is known for uttering the closest thing to dialogue in any of those toons. "Beep beep." That's all it took to endear Road Runner to the audience. While Wile E. wasn't without his fans, there's such catharsis in watching Road Runner win, dooming Wile E. Coyote to an eternity of suffering, like a hand-drawn Sisyphus.
But what is the origin story of the "Beep Beep?" usually, Looney Tunes voices are cut-and-dry. They're typically all Mel Blanc. It cannot be overstated just how responsible Blanc is for much of what we associate with these familiar characters. For 61 years, The Man of 1,000 Voices provided the mannerisms of Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Tweety, and others. So, case closed, Blanc did the "Beep Beep," right? Not so fast there, Road Runner!
The real story starts with background artist Paul Julian. Born in Illinois in 1914, Julian originally honed his trade as a mural artist, with his work displayed publicly in several prominent locations. Notably, a mural of his from 1942 is still a feature of Upland Elementary School in Upland, California. In addition, a Julian mural was a part of the interior of the post office in Fullerton, California.
It was out west where Paul Julian first came to work for Warner Brothers as a background artist. Among the shorts he contributed to was Hare Trigger, the 1945 debut of Bugs Bunny's short-tempered nemesis Yosemite Sam. Later, though, it was his vocal talents that attracted Road Runner creator Mike Maltese's attention.
Because Paul Julian was a background artist, he often left work carrying heavy, oversize wooden background palettes. One particular day, Julian was struggling through a crowd, cargo in hand, when Maltese overheard a sound that would change cartoon history. Instead of a "Pardon me," or an "Oops, excuse me," Julian navigated the crowd with a "Beep beep!" Or, to hear the artist himself do it, it was actually closer to a "Hmeep hmeep!"
Maltese decided this was the perfect sound for his Road Runner character, and sound engineer Treg Brown recorded his voice. However, fans will notice that Julian went uncredited for his contribution. This was the result of two separate stipulations. First, Julian was a background artist and not a performer, so he was never a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Second, Mel Blanc's contract specified that Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons would include the sole credit "Voice characterization(s) by Mel Blanc."
Those recordings of Paul Julian's voice, though they remain uncredited to him, are still in use to this day.
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Thankfully so. However whoever made the sound choice, chose a good one, as it has endured over the years.
Do wonder though if the goat scream #1 is real and if so, has been recorded and used in animated features?
More trivia: The "thwip-thwip" sound you hear when the road runner sticks out his tongue was created by Treg Brown flicking his thumb over the mouth of a wine bottle. (No doubt some speed adjustment and editing took place)...
Orlando "Slim" Martin was amazing with his trombone, and a clip of his "trombone gobble" has been used for decades. It's still a puzzle as to exactly how he did it, but I'm guessing he rapidly moved the trombone slide back and forth while saying "ya-ya-ya-ya" repeatedly through the mouthpiece...
Here's a link to the cartoon "You Don't Know What You're Doin'". As "Piggy starts chasing the car he's fed booze to, you can hear Martin emulating the drunken auto, then his "trombone gobble". That section starts at about 5:34 into the cartoon...