Mel Welles (February 17, 1924 – August 19, 2005) was an American film actor and director. His best-remembered role may be that of hapless flower shop owner Gravis Mushnik in the 1960 low-budget Roger Corman dark comedy, The Little Shop of Horrors.
Life and career
Not much is known of Welles' early life, except that he was born Ira W. Meltcher in the Bronx, New York City, son of Max and Sally Grichewsky Meltcher. He was raised in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania and graduated from Mt. Carmel High School, in 1940. He went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Penn State University, a Master of Arts degree from West Virginia University, and a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.
Welles held a number of jobs during his lifetime; at one time or another he worked as a clinical psychologist, radio DJ, television actor, writer and film director. He did some stage work before traveling to Hollywood, where in 1953 he appeared in his first film, Appointment in Honduras. His favorite role (The Little Shop of Horrors) was also his last in the U.S. for many years.
In the early 1960s, he left the United States initially to make a film in Germany. After the producer was arrested he travelled to Rome to act, produce and direct mostly uncredited primarily in Europe several film productions including the cult horror films Maneater of Hydra (1967) and Lady Frankenstein (1971). His fluency in five languages proved to be most helpful where he started a dubbing company that by his own estimate dubbed over 800 European made films. He also served as a film consultant. Later, he returned to the U.S., appearing in a number of films, doing voice work, and teaching voice acting.
Probably his most widely seen work in the late 1970s was his English adaptation of the Japanese television show, "Spectreman" which was seen on UHF and cable across the United States. While he shares writing credit with two other people, it's clear that most of the English voice work, and the offbeat humor, is his. Reportedly, Welles also wrote gag material for Lord Buckley at some point in his career.
In 1998, Welles took to the stage in a community theater production of Little Shop of Horrors (musical) as Mushnik, the role he created in the original Roger Corman film. Welles had never performed in the musical and was happy to be asked to do the role, which he described as a "mitzvah" for Scotts Valley Performing Arts. Jonathan Haze, who played Seymour in the original film, attended the opening, and Welles also received a visit from Martin P. Robinson, the designer of the Audrey II plant puppets used in the off-Broadway production (Robinson is also famous for his puppetry on Sesame Street).
Arguably his most remembered piece is the beat poem he wrote for the classic film High School Confidential (1958). Famously delivered by Phillipa Fallon, Dragsville, has become a classic piece of literary and cinema history.
Welles was working on a horror screenplay, tentatively titled House of a Hundred Horrors, at the time of his death.
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