Walter Lantz

Last updated

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz 1990 photo D Ramey Logan.jpg
Lantz in 1990, with paintings of Woody Woodpecker
Born(1899-04-27)April 27, 1899
DiedMarch 22, 1994(1994-03-22) (aged 94)
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Occupation Animator, Producer, director,
Screenwriter, Actor
Years active1916–1994
Employer Walter Lantz Productions
Known forCreator of Woody Woodpecker
Notable work
Woody Woodpecker
Chilly Willy
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Andy Panda
Television The Woody Woodpecker Show (1957–1958)
Title Founder and Chairman
Doris Hollister
(m. 1930;div. 1940)

(m. 1940;died 1992)
Awards Academy Honorary Award
1979 Lifetime Achievement
Winsor McCay Award
1973 Lifetime Achievement
Walter Lantz Productions.png

Walter Benjamin Lantz (April 27, 1899 – March 22, 1994) [1] was an American cartoonist, animator, film producer, director and actor best known for founding Walter Lantz Productions and creating Woody Woodpecker. [2] [3]



Early years and start in animation

Lantz was born in New Rochelle, New York, to Italian immigrant parents, Francesco Paolo Lantz (formerly Lanza) and Maria Gervasi from Calitri. [4] According to Joe Adamson's biography, The Walter Lantz Story, Lantz's father was given his new surname by an immigration official who anglicized it. Walter Lantz was always interested in art, completing a mail-order drawing class at age 12. He was inspired when he saw Winsor McCay's animated short, "Gertie the Dinosaur".

While working as an auto mechanic, Lantz got his first break. Wealthy customer Fred Kafka liked his drawings on the garage's bulletin board and financed Lantz's studies at the Art Students League of New York. Kafka also helped him land a job as a copy boy at the New York American , owned by William Randolph Hearst. Lantz worked at the newspaper and attended art school at night.

By the age of 16, Lantz was working in the animation department under director Gregory La Cava. Lantz then worked at the John R. Bray Studios on the Jerry On The Job series. In 1924, Lantz directed, animated, and even starred in his first cartoon series, "Dinky Doodle", which included the popular fairy tale animated shorts Cinderella (1925) and Little Red Riding Hood (1925). [5] Lantz soon replaced George "Vernon" Stallings as head of production at Bray. (In the 1920s, Bray began to concentrate on competing with Hal Roach, the "king of two-reelers"). At the urging of his friend, Robert G. Vignola, Lantz moved to Hollywood, California, after Bray switched to a publicity film studio in 1927, where he attempted to set up his own cartoon studio with Pinto Colvig, but their sound cartoons never got produced. In the meantime, he worked briefly for director Frank Capra and was a gag writer for Mack Sennett comedies. [6] He also resorted to odd jobs, one of them being a chauffeur.

The Oswald era

In 1928, Lantz was hired by Charles B. Mintz as director on the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon series for Universal Pictures. Earlier that year, Mintz and his brother-in-law George Winkler had succeeded in getting several animators from the Walt Disney Studio to work for their own studio instead. Universal president Carl Laemmle grew dissatisfied with the Mintz-Winkler product and fired them, deciding instead to produce the Oswalds on the Universal lot. While schmoozing with Laemmle, Lantz wagered that if he could beat Laemmle in a game of poker, the character would be his. As fate would have it, Lantz won the bet, and Oswald was now his character. [7]

Lantz inherited many of his initial staff, including animator Tom Palmer and musician Bert Fiske from the Winkler studio, but importantly he chose fellow New York animator, Bill Nolan, to help develop the series. Nolan's previous credentials included inventing the panorama background and developing a new, streamlined "Felix the Cat". Nolan was (and still is) best known for perfecting the "rubber hose" style of animation. In September 1929, Lantz released his first cartoon, "Race Riot".

The character went to Lantz's operation in 1933. [8]

By 1935, he parted company with Nolan. Lantz became an independent producer, supplying cartoons to Universal instead of merely overseeing the animation department. By 1940, he was negotiating ownership for the characters with whom he had been working.

The Woody Woodpecker era

Lantz in 1939 Walter Lantz, Boxoffice Barometer, 1939.jpg
Lantz in 1939

When Oswald had worn out his welcome, Lantz needed a new character. Meany, Miny, and Moe (three ne'er-do-well chimps), Baby-Face Mouse, Snuffy Skunk, Doxie (a comic dachshund), and Jock and Jill (monkeys that resembled Warner Brothers' Bosko) were some personalities Lantz and his staff came up with. However, one character, Andy Panda, stood out and soon became Lantz's headline star for the 1939–1940 production season.

In 1940, Lantz married actress Grace Stafford (he was previously married to, and had a child with, Doris Hollister). The same year, Woody Woodpecker first appeared in an Andy Panda short entitled Knock Knock . According to Lantz himself, he came up with the character during his honeymoon. He and Stafford kept hearing a woodpecker incessantly pecking on their roof. Grace suggested that Walter use the bird for inspiration as a cartoon character. Taking her advice, though a bit skeptical, Lantz created the brash woodpecker character, similar to the early Daffy Duck. Woody Woodpecker became an instant hit and got his own series during 1941.

Mel Blanc supplied Woody's voice for the first three cartoons. When Blanc accepted a full-time contract with Warner Bros. and left the Lantz studio, he was replaced as Woody's voice by Danny Webb, who would only voice the character in the next two shorts ( Pantry Panic and The Hollywood Matador ) before Webb himself was replaced by Kent Rogers. After Rogers went into the service due to World War II, gagman Ben Hardaway, the man who was the main force behind Knock Knock, became the bird's voice. Despite this, Blanc's distinctive laugh was still used throughout the cartoons until 1951.

In 1948, the Lantz studio created a hit Academy Award-nominated song titled "The Woody Woodpecker Song", featuring Blanc's laugh. The song was featured in the film Wet Blanket Policy. [9] Mel Blanc sued Lantz for half a million dollars, claiming that Lantz had used his voice in later cartoons without permission. The judge, however, ruled for Lantz, saying that Blanc had failed to copyright his voice or his contributions. Though Lantz won the case, he paid Blanc in an out-of-court settlement when Blanc filed an appeal, and Lantz went in search for a new voice for Woody Woodpecker. [10]

In 1950, Lantz held anonymous auditions. Grace, Lantz's wife, offered to do Woody's voice; however, Lantz turned her down because Woody was a male character. Not discouraged in the least, Grace made her own anonymous audition tape and submitted it to the studio. Not knowing who was behind the voice he heard, Lantz picked Grace's voice for Woody Woodpecker. Grace supplied Woody's voice until the end of production in 1972, and also performed in non-Woody cartoons. At first, Grace voiced Woody without screen credit, thinking that it would disappoint child viewers to know that Woody Woodpecker was voiced by a woman. However, she soon came to enjoy being known as the voice of Woody Woodpecker, and, starting with 1958's Misguided Missile , allowed her name to be credited on the screen. Her version of Woody was cuter and friendlier than the manic Woody of the 1940s, and Lantz's artists redesigned the character to suit the new personality.

Lantz's harmonious relationship with Universal, the studio releasing his cartoons, was jarred when new ownership transformed the company into Universal-International and did away with many of Universal's company policies. The new management insisted on owning licensing and merchandising rights to Lantz's characters. Lantz refused and withdrew from the parent company by the end of 1947, releasing 12 cartoons independently through United Artists in 1948, into the beginning of 1949. Financial difficulties forced Lantz to shut down his studio in 1949. Universal-International re-released Lantz's UA (and several earlier) cartoons during the shutdown and eventually came to terms with Lantz, who resumed production in 1951. From this point forward, Lantz worked faster and cheaper, no longer using the lush, artistic backgrounds and stylings that had distinguished his 1940s work.

Lantz used his TV appearances on The Woody Woodpecker Show (which began in 1957) to demonstrate the animation process. Later, Lantz entertained the troops during the Vietnam War and visited hospitalized veterans. Walter Lantz was a good friend of movie innovator George Pal.

Retirement and death

By the 1960s, other movie studios had discontinued their animation departments, leaving Walter Lantz as one of two producers still making cartoons for theaters (the other studio was DePatie-Freleng Enterprises). Lantz finally closed his studio's doors for good in 1972, because by then, he explained, it was economically impossible to continue producing them and stay in business as rising inflation had strained his profits, and Universal serviced the remaining demand with reissues of his older cartoons.

In retirement, Lantz continued to manage his properties by licensing them to media. He continued to draw and paint, selling his paintings of Woody Woodpecker rapidly. On top of that, he worked with Little League and other youth groups in his area. In 1982, Lantz donated 17 artifacts to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, among them a wooden model of Woody Woodpecker from the cartoon character's debut in 1941. The Lantzes also made time to visit hospitals and other institutions where Walter would draw Woody and Grace would do the Woody laugh for patients.

During the 1980s and 1990s Lantz served on the advisory board of the National Student Film Institute. [11] [12]

In 1990, Woody Woodpecker was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1993, Lantz established a $10,000 scholarship and prize for animators in his name at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Santa Clarita. Walter Lantz died at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California from heart failure on March 22, 1994, at age 94.


Some characters in the Walter Lantz cartoons (both cartoons and comics) are Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (formerly), Andy Panda, The Beary Family, Maggie & Sam, Maw and Paw, Space Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, Inspector Willoughby, Homer Pigeon, Chilly Willy, Lil' Eightball, Charlie Chicken, Wally Walrus, and many more.


See also

Related Research Articles

Mel Blanc American voice actor (1908–1989)

Mel Blanc was an American voice actor, comedian, and radio personality. After beginning his over-60-year career performing in radio, he became known for his work in animation as the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and most of the other characters from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies theatrical cartoons during the golden age of American animation.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Animated cartoon character who was Walt Disneys signature character before Mickey Mouse

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is a groovy cartoon character created in 1927 by Walt Disney for Universal Pictures. He starred in several animated short films released to theaters from 1927 to 1938. 27 animated Oswald shorts were produced at the Walt Disney Studio. When the Disney studio was removed from the Oswald series and several of its animators departed to Winkler, Walt Disney and Iwerks created Mickey Mouse.

Tex Avery American animator, cartoonist, voice actor and director

Frederick Bean "Tex" Avery was an American animator and director, known for producing and directing animated cartoons during the golden age of American animation. His most significant work was for the Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, where he was crucial in the creation and evolution of famous animated characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Droopy, Screwy Squirrel, George and Junior, and Chilly Willy.

Walter Lantz Productions American Animation Studio

Walter Lantz Productions was an American animation studio. It was in operation from 1928 to 1972, and was the principal supplier of animation for Universal Studios, now part of the media conglomerate NBCUniversal, owned by Comcast. Nowadays the company exists in name only as a subsidiary of Universal Animation Studios, handling the rights to the studio's characters and films.

<i>Woody Woodpecker</i> Fictional cartoon character bird

Woody Woodpecker is a cartoon anthropomorphic woodpecker that has appeared in theatrical short films produced by the Walter Lantz Studio and distributed by Universal Studios between 1940 and 1972.

<i>Knock Knock</i> (1940 film)

Knock Knock is a 1940 animated short subject, part of the Andy Panda series, produced by Walter Lantz. The cartoon is noted for being the first appearance of Woody Woodpecker, and was released by Universal Pictures on November 25, 1940.

Chilly Willy

Chilly Willy is a cartoon character, a diminutive penguin. He was created by director Paul Smith for the Walter Lantz studio in 1953, and developed further by Tex Avery in the two subsequent films following Smith's debut entry. The character soon became the second most popular Lantz/Universal character, behind Woody Woodpecker. Fifty Chilly Willy cartoons were produced between 1953 and 1972.

<i>The Woody Woodpecker Show</i>

The Woody Woodpecker Show is a long-running 30-minute American television series mainly composed of the film series in animated cartoon escapades of Woody Woodpecker and other Walter Lantz characters including Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, and Inspector Willoughby released by Walter Lantz Productions. The series was revived and reformatted several times, but remained popular for nearly four decades and allowed the studio to continue making theatrical cartoons until 1973 when it shut down. It also kept the Walter Lantz/Universal "cartunes" made during the Golden Age of American animation a part of the American consciousness. The Woody Woodpecker Show was named the 88th best animated series by IGN.

Grace Stafford American actress

Grace Lantz, also known by her stage name Grace Stafford, was an American actress and the wife of animation producer Walter Lantz. Stafford is best known for providing the voice of Woody Woodpecker, a creation of Lantz's, from 1950 to 1992.

Andy Panda

Andy Panda is a cartoon character who starred in his own series of animated cartoon short subjects produced by Walter Lantz. These "cartunes" were released by Universal Pictures from 1939 to 1947, and United Artists from 1948 to 1949. The title character is an anthropomorphic cartoon character, a cute panda. Andy became the second star of the Walter Lantz cartoons after Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He achieved considerable popularity until being eventually supplanted by Woody Woodpecker.

Joseph Benson Hardaway was an American storyboard artist, animator, voice actor, gagman, writer and director for several American animation studios during The Golden Age of Hollywood animation. He was sometimes credited as J. B. Hardaway, Ben Hardaway, Buggsy Hardaway and B. Hardaway.

<i>Pantry Panic</i> 1941 film by Walter Lantz

Pantry Panic is the third animated cartoon short in the Woody Woodpecker series. Released theatrically on November 24, 1941, the film was produced by Walter Lantz Productions and distributed by Universal Pictures.

Wally Walrus is a fictional animated cartoon character who appeared in several films produced by Walter Lantz Productions in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Paul J. Smith was an American animator and director.

<i>The Screwdriver</i>

The Screwdriver is the second animated cartoon short subject in the Woody Woodpecker series. Released theatrically on August 11, 1941, the film was produced by Walter Lantz Productions and distributed by Universal Pictures.

<i>Puny Express</i> 1950 short film

Puny Express is an American cartoon, and the 33rd animated cartoon short subject in the Woody Woodpecker series. Released theatrically on January 22, 1951, the film was produced by Walter Lantz Productions and distributed by Universal-International.

<i>Hurdy Gurdy</i> (film) 1929 film

Hurdy Gurdy is a 1929 animated short film which is presented by Carl Laemmle and was produced by Walter Lantz, who he and his wife would go on to make Woody Woodpecker. The film, which is animated by R.C. Hamilton, Bill Nolan and Tom Palmer, features Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who is substituted for the organ grinder's dancer, after the original one is comically swallowed up by Oswald's bubblegum.

<i>Chilly Con Carmen</i> 1930 animated film

Chilly Con Carmen is a 1930 animated short film which was presented by Carl Laemmle and was produced by Walter Lantz, who would go on to produce Woody Woodpecker with his wife, Gracie Lantz. The film, which was animated by R. C. Hamilton, Tom Palmer and 'Bill' Nolan, features Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, as he attempts to engage in a game of bullfighting in order to charm a Mexican girl over his other girlfriend, Miss Hippo.

<i>Race Riot</i> (film) 1929 animated film

Race Riot is a 1929 animated short film which is presented by Carl Laemmle and was produced by Walter Lantz. who would go on to produce and create the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker with his wife, Gracie Lantz. The film, which both its story and animation was composed by Walter Lantz, 'Bill' Nolan and Tom Palmer, features Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, as he attempts to win a horse race with his horse.

This is a list of events in 1941 in animation.


  1. Collins, Glen A. (1994-03-23). "Walter Lantz, 93, the Creator Of Woody Woodpecker, Is Dead". The New York Times . Retrieved 2011-11-22.
  2. "Meet my boss, Walter Lantz". The Los Angeles Times . 2007-10-22. Retrieved 2011-11-22.
  3. Solomon, Charles (1985-12-29). "The Woodpecker and the Mouse : THE WALTER LANTZ STORY WITH WOODY WOODPECKER AND FRIENDS by Joe Adamson (Putnam's: $19.95; 254 pp., illustrated) and DISNEY'S WORLD by Leonard Mosley (Stein & Day: $18.95; 330 pp., illustrated)". The Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 2011-11-22.
  4. Maria Gervasi was born on December 4, 1878 in Calitri to Michele Arcangelo Gervasi and Maria Concetta Bozza
  5. "Fairy Tale Flappers: Animated Adaptations of Little Red and Cinderella (1922–1925)".
  6. Lenburg, Jeff (2006). Who's Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film And ... – Jeff Lenburg – Google Books. ISBN   9781557836717 . Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  7. "Walter Lantz Plays it Lucky, 1928 |".
  8. Mallory, Michael (March 20, 2014). "A Tale of Two Walts".
  9. "The 21st Academy Awards | 1949". | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  10. "Woody Woodpecker on Records |".
  11. Editor (June 10, 1994). National Student Film Institute/L.A: The Sixteenth Annual Los Angeles Student Film Festival. The Directors Guild Theatre. pp. 10–11.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  12. Editor (June 7, 1991). Los Angeles Student Film Institute: 13th Annual Student Film Festival. The Directors Guild Theatre. p. 3.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  13. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  14. Brady, David E. (1994-03-23). "Walter Lantz, Creator of Woody Woodpecker, Dies". The Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 2011-11-22.
  15. "Hollywood : Sidewalk Star for Walter Lantz". The Los Angeles Times . 1986-02-27. Retrieved 2011-11-22.

Further reading

Business positions
Preceded by
Owner of Woody Woodpecker
Succeeded by
Universal Animation
Owner of Walter Lantz Studios