Do you believe in omens? This morning, when I went outside to retrieve the Sunday paper from a mud puddle or the bushes (depending on the weather and/or the aim of the paper-route guy), I heard woodpeckers pecking away front and back. One or the other isn’t unusual, but to hear this clatter coming from both directions simultaneously was a first. What, if anything, did this portend?
It turns out that on this day 21 years ago (March 22, 1994), Walter Lantz died at the age of 94. Who was Walter Lantz, you ask (unless you already knew or don’t give a damn)? Well, I’m glad you may have asked, otherwise I would feel like a useless pile of wood chips. Walter Lantz was the creator of Woody Woodpecker, that’s who. And the story of how it happened is a riveting one — get it? Hahahahaha:
From 1928 to 1940, Lantz had been producing cartoons (principally Oswald the Lucky Rabbit) for Universal Studios. In 1940, he and his new wife (actress Grace Stafford) were on their honeymoon, and kept hearing a woodpecker pecking constantly on their roof. Lantz had been seeking a fresh new character for a cartoon series, so his wife suggested a woodpecker, and the rest wood be history. It is also worth noting that the legendary man-of-a-thousand-voices, Mel Blanc, supplied Woody’s voice for the first three cartoons. After Blanc left for Leon Schlesinger/Warner Bros., others supplied Woody’s voice, but Blanc’s unique laugh continued to be used throughout the cartoons.
Want more Woody? Here’s an early clip (1941, 3rd in the series) titled PANTRY PANIC: