Walter Lantz

From Academic Kids

Walter Lantz (b. April 27, 1900 in New Rochelle, New York – d. March 22, 1994 in Burbank, California of heart failure), is an animator and cartoonist, best-known for the Walter Lantz Studio founding.


Brief History

Walter Lantz was born April 27, 1900 in New Rochelle, New York into a family of Italian immigrants. He was interested in art at an early, completing a mail order drawing class at age twelve. Lantz got his first taste of animation when he watched Winsor McCay’s cartoon short, Gertie the Dinosaur. This, perhaps, inspired him to become a cartoonist himself later on.

While working as an auto mechanic Lantz got his first break in the art world. A well-to-do customer, Fred Kafka, liked his drawings on the garage's bulletin board. He bankrolled his studies at New York City's Art Students League. Kafka also helped him get a job in town, as a copy boy at The New York American, owned by William Randolph Hearst. When he had completed his day’s work at the newspaper office, he attended art school. By the time he was sixteen, Lantz was working behind the camera in the animation department under the supervision of director Gregory La Cava. After working for Gregory La Cava, Lantz moved to Hollywood where he worked briefly for director Frank Capra and later as a gag writer for Mack Sennett. In 1922, Walter Lantz produced and directed his first cartoon series, Colonel Heeza Liar, at J.R. Bray Studios in New York. By 1926 he moved to Hollywood, California and wrote for Max Sennett comedies.

In 1928, Lantz was working as a part time chauffer for Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Studios. He was later hired by the same person he was chauffeuring to oversee the animation department. Lantz came into the job just as a young animator named Walt Disney, and his rejected Mickey Mouse, were leaving. Walt Disney left behind his character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which Lantz quickly modified and copyrighted as his own character.

By 1935, Lantz had managed to become an independent producer, supplying cartoons to Universal instead of merely overseeing the animation department. By the time 1940 came, he was negotiating ownership for the characters he had been working with.

In 1941, he married named an actress named Grace Stafford. Accoridng to legend, the couple kept hearing a woodpecker incessantly pecking on their roof during their honeymoon, leading to Lantz's creation of his most famous character, Woody Woodpecker. However, the first Lantz short featuring Woody, the Andy Panda short Knock Knock, had been made in 1940.

Mel Blanc supplied Woody’s voice for his first three cartoons. Even after Blanc left to work for Leon Schlesinger Productions/Wanrer Bros. and weas replaced by storyman Ben Hardaway, his distinctive laugh was still used throughout the cartoons.

During 1948, the Lantz studio had a hit Academy Award-mominated tune in “The Woody Woodpecker Song”, featuring Blanc’s laugh. Mel Blanc sued Lantz for half a million dollars, claiming that Lantz had used his voice in various later cartoons without his permission. The judge, however, ruled against Blanc, saying that he had failed to copyright his voice or contributions. Even though Lantz had won the case, he paid Blanc the money in an out of court settlement, and went off to search for a new voice for Woody Woodpecker.

Searching for a new voice for Woody Woodpecker during 1950, Lantz held anonymous auditions. Gracie had offered to do Woody’s voice, however Lantz turned her down because Woody was a male characteer. Not discouraged in the least, Gracie went about secretly making her own anonymous audution tape, and submitted it with the others for the studio to listen to. Not knowing whose voice was being heard, Lantz picked Gracie’s voice to do Woody Woodpecker. Gracie supplied Woody’s voice all the way up until Lantz finally stopped making new cartoons for Woody Woodpecker. At first Gracie had chosen to voice Woody with no screen credit because she thought that it would disappoint the children to know Woody Woodpecker was voice by a woman. However, she soon came to enjoy being known as the voice of Woody Woodpecker, and allowed her name to be put on the credit screen. She later reported feeling as though she had taken on some of Woody Woodpecker’s traits.

The baby boomer generation came to know and love Lantz as the creator of the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. He used his TV appearances to show how the animation was actually done. For many of those young viewers, it was the first they had come to see an explanation of the process. That same generation later knew him for entertaining the troops during the Vietnam War and later visiting the hospitalized veterans.

Walter Lantz’s studio was the last classical cartoon studio to close in 1972. In his retirement, Lantz managed his studio’s properties which still had value with re-releasing cartoons and sales to new venues. He continued to draw and paint, selling paintings with Woody Woodpecker in them rapidly. On top of that, he worked with Little League and other youth groups around his area. In 1982, Lantz donated seventeen 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. During 1993, Lantz established a ten thousand dollar scholarship and prize for animators in his name at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. Walter Lantz died at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California of heart failure on March 22, 1994.

Walter Lantz "Car-tunes"

Awards Walter Lantz was Presented

  • 1959 he was honored by the Los Angeles City Council as "one of America's most outstanding animated film cartoonists".
  • 1973 the international animation society, ASIFA/Hollywood, presented him with its Annie Award.
  • 1979 he was given a special Academy Award, "for bringing joy and laughter to every part of the world through his unique animated motion pictures."
  • 1986 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

External links

fr:Walter Lantz sv:Walter Lantz


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