Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Walter Lantz, 1899-1984

It was on this day in 1899 that animator Walter Lantz was born. Lantz is best known today for creating the famous character Woody Woodpecker back in 1940. However, Lantz had been making cartoons for quite a few years before this, including making a lot of shorts featuring the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald is probably most famous for being created by Walt Disney when Disney was working at Universal; Disney lost the rights to Oswald when he started his own studio. (The rights to Oswald were eventually obtained a few years back by Disney as part of a deal that allowed sportscaster Al Michaels to jump ship from ABC [owned by Disney] to NBC [owned by Universal]. Ain't media conglomerates grand?) Lantz also created such characters as Andy Panda, Chilly Willy the penguin, and several foils for Woody.

It's fairly well-known that Woody Woodpecker's voice was provided by Grace Stafford, who was also the wife of Lantz. At least, she provided the voice starting in 1950. An interesting fact here is that the first time Stafford voiced Woody was actually as part of a live-action movie, Destination Moon, in which a Woody Woodpecker short is used to explain certain aspects of science. Only having started in 1950, though, Stafford was by no means the first voice. That, surprisingly enough, was Mel Blanc, who voiced a small number of Woody Woodpecker cartoons (distributed by Universal) until he signed an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. to voice all those Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters.

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