On this day, 124 years ago in New Rochelle, N.Y. a first-generation Italian-American boy named Walter Benjamin Lantz was born.
From the Hollywood Walk of Fame website:
Lantz was born in New Rochelle, New York to Italian immigrant parents, Francesco Paolo Lantz and Maria Gervasi. ... Walter Lantz was always interested in art, completing a mail order drawing class at age twelve. He saw his first animation when he watched Winsor McCay’s cartoon short, Gertie the Dinosaur.
While working as an auto mechanic, Lantz got his first break. A wealthy customer named Fred Kafka liked his drawings on the garage’s bulletin board and financed Lantz’s studies at the Art Students League. Kafka also helped him get 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. He moved to Hollywood, California in 1927, where he worked briefly for director Frank Capra and was a gag writer for Mack Sennett comedies.
Dinky Doodle! I got yer Dinky Doodle right here!
Woody's original, crazier look.
(I've always liked this one better.)
According to the origin story Lantz always told, it was during his 1941 honeymoon with actress Gracie Stafford at a lakeside cottage near Reno, Nevada that he found the inspiration for his most famous character.
"We kept hearing this knock, knock, knock on the roof," Lantz told The Los Angeles Times in 1992. "And I said to Gracie, 'What the hell is that?' So I went out and looked, and here's this woodpecker drilling holes in the shingles. And we had asbestos shingles, not wood. So, to show you how smart these woodpeckers are, they'd peck a hole in the asbestos shingles and put in an acorn. A worm would develop in the acorn, and a week later the woodpecker would come back, get the acorn and fly away, letting out this noisy scream as he flew away."
A honeymoon with woodpeckers, worms and asbestos. That sounds romantic...
So, according to the story, Gracie suggested Lantz use an annoying woodpecker for a new cartoon character. So he did.
But that' probably not what really happened. After all, Lantz got married in 1941 and Woody debuted in November 1940 as a supporting character in an Andy Panda short called "Knock Knock." So, unless they were time travelers ...
Whatever way it came down, the great Mel Blanc provided Woody's voice for the first few cartoons. But when Mel signed an exclusive deal with Warner Brothers, Gracie took over on vocal duties for Woody Woodpecker. It's her voice that most of us remember.
Because this is a music blog, let's take a look at the song stylings of the beloved woodpecker. There was plenty of music in Woody Woodpecker cartoons
We'll start out with some variations on a song I actually remember from the show:
Even woodpeckers love to polka!
Woodpeckers apparently also like opera:
But when most people think of Woody Woodpecker music, this song, recorded in 1948 by Kay Kyser (featuring Gloria Wood on lead vocals and Harry Babbitt's insane laugh) undoubtedly is the first thing that comes to mind: