Lantz, Walter

▪ 1995

      U.S. animator (b. April 27, 1900, New Rochelle, N.Y.—d. March 22, 1994, Burbank, Calif.), created an unforgettable stable of cartoon characters, notably the rambunctious, red-headed Woody Woodpecker, an irascible birdbrain who delighted viewers with his staccato "Ha-ha-ha-Ha-ha!" merriment; Lantz also made animation history in 1930 with the production of the first Technicolor cartoon, which graced the opening sequence of the film King of Jazz. Lantz launched his career in 1915 as an office boy in the art department of the New York American before dabbling in animation in 1916 and finding his niche (1922) at Bray Studios in New York City, where he collaborated on The Katzenjammer Kids, Krazy Kat, Happy Hooligan, and Mutt and Jeff cartoons. After moving to California in 1927, Lantz served as a gagman for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach before working (1928-38) for Universal Studios. There he took over the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon series and developed such characters as Andy Panda, Winchester the Tortoise, Homer Pigeon, Inspector Willoughby, and Chilly Willy (a pint-sized penguin). Woody Woodpecker, his most enduring character, made his film debut in a bit part in the 1940 cartoon short Knock, Knock and became a featured film character and, beginning in 1957, a television star on "The Woody Woodpecker Show." Lantz's inspiration for Woody was a pesky woodpecker that disturbed his honeymoon. His wife, Grace, provided Woody's distinctive voice for most of his adventures. During his more than 60-year career, Lantz produced more than 800 short films, and his cartoons were translated into more than 60 languages and seen in some 70 countries. He closed his studio in 1975, and in 1979 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented him with a life achievement Oscar in recognition of his superb craftsmanship.

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▪ American animator
born April 27, 1899, New Rochelle, New York, U.S.
died March 22, 1994, Burbank, California

      American motion-picture animator, cartoon producer, and creator of the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker.

      At age 16, Lantz worked as a newspaper cartoonist and began experimenting with animation that same year. In 1922 he went to work for Bray Studios in New York City, where he collaborated on several series, among them The Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, Mutt and Jeff, and Colonel Heeza Liar. He also created and worked on the Pete the Pup and Dinky Doodle series.

      In 1927 Lantz went to California, where he found work as a gag writer for Mack Sennett (Sennett, Mack) and Hal Roach (Roach, Hal). In the late 1920s he began working for Universal Studios; he continued their Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series and developed the characters Andy Panda, Li'l Eight Ball, and Winchester the Tortoise. About the same time, Lantz produced the first Technicolor cartoon sequence ever screened for the opening scenes of the feature King of Jazz (1930). His most famous creation was Woody Woodpecker, who first appeared in a bit part in the cartoon short Knock, Knock (1940) and who became the star of a long-running series of cartoons the following year. Lantz's wife, Gracie, provided Woody's voice, and renowned voice artist Mel Blanc (Blanc, Mel) originated Woody's familiar “ha-ha-ha-HA-ha!” laugh.

      During World War II Lantz produced cartoons that were used as training films by the army and navy. Subsequently he produced educational films, commercial pictures, and The Woody Woodpecker Show for television. The last independent producer of theatrically distributed cartoon shorts in the business, Lantz closed his operation in 1973. In 1979 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented him with a special honorary award for his contributions to the art of animation. In a memorable television moment, an animated Woody appeared alongside Lantz to accept the award on the live Oscar broadcast.

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Universalium. 2010.

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