Sunday Funnies: Walter Lantz

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While working as an auto mechanic, Lantz got his first break. Wealthy customer Fred Kafka liked his drawings on the garage’s bulletin board and financed Lantz’s studies at the Art Students League of New York. Kafka also helped him land 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.
He worked briefly for director Frank Capra and was a gag writer for Mack Sennett comedies. He also resorted to odd jobs, one of them being a chauffeur.
Walter Lantz Productions was originally formed as Universal Cartoon Studios on the initiative of Universal movie mogul Carl Laemmle, who was tired of the continuous company politics he was dealing with concerning contracting cartoons outside animation studios. Walter Lantz, who was Laemmle’s part-time chauffeur and a veteran of the John R. Bray Studios with considerable experience in all elements of animation production, was selected to run the department.

The first Lantz-produced “Oswald” cartoon was Race Riot, released on September 2, 1929. The horse’s coughs were done by Walter Lantz.

During the mid-to-late 1930s, Oswald’s popularity declined, and Lantz experimented with other characters to replace him. After a succession of failed attempts, the 1939 cartoon Life Begins for Andy Panda became an instant hit, and Andy Panda became a successful substitute for Oswald, who was retired in 1938.

In 1940, the Walter Lantz studio was in trouble. Universal once again was facing severe financial difficulties and possible bankruptcy and decided to cut their weekly advance to the now-independent Lantz studio. The studio shut down for a period, but by autumn 1940, Lantz’s studio was back in business again. 1940 also marked the debut of Lantz’s biggest star: Woody Woodpecker, who debuted in the Andy Panda cartoon Knock Knock.

Woody quickly became extremely popular, being given his own series in early 1941, and became one of the most famous examples of the “brash bird” cartoon characters of the late 1930s/early 1940s such as Daffy Duck. The success of Scrub Me Mama With A Boogie Beat and Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy (the former becoming subject to controversy and even protest in later years over racial stereotypes) also led to the introduction of the Swing Symphony series that fall, often featuring popular musicians of the time. The series ended in 1945 at the twilight of the big band era.

After some more financial difficulties, in 1950, the Walter Lantz studio opened its doors once again. Two of the new films — Puny Express and Sleep Happy — were previously storyboarded by Ben Hardaway and Heck Allen during the United Artists period. In 1951, the new cartoons were finally released and became instant hits with audiences. They were so successful that Universal commissioned six more shorts for the following year. Overall, 1951 marked the beginning of a new era for the Walter Lantz studio.

Chilly Willy, a diminutive penguin. was created by director Paul Smith for the Walter Lantz studio in 1953, and developed further by Tex Avery in the two subsequent films following Smith’s debut entry. The character soon became the second most popular Lantz/Universal character, behind Woody Woodpecker

The series was about Charlie Beary, the incompetent family man, his nagging wife Bessie, their well-meaning but half-witted teenage son Junior and their younger daughter Suzy, who later got a pet goose who never gets along with Charlie.

Lantz first used “The Woody Woodpecker Song” in Wet Blanket Policy (1948), and it became the first and only song from an animated short subject to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1948 but it lost out to “Buttons and Bows”.

The studio also did 20 Coca-Cola commercials.

I could do a post devoted to just The Woody Woodpecker Show, but for now “That’s all folks!

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05/21/2023 10:19 pm

Have You done Fleisher Studios / Popeye Yet ? … Enquiring Minds & Sh!t … ; )

05/21/2023 5:18 pm

Dayuum… BEST ACE EVER!!!

Reply to  pompano
05/22/2023 4:05 pm

THAT ! … Was Worth The Effort ! … ; )

zulu trader
05/21/2023 4:41 pm
05/21/2023 3:10 pm

Man, you went way back. Nice work.

05/21/2023 11:30 am

Awesome as always…..

05/21/2023 11:14 am

outstanding as always … didn’t know Lantz did that many different toons and characters … beyond Woody the only one I truly remember was Chilly Willy

Team Player
Reply to  pompano
05/21/2023 4:42 pm

Larnin iz gud

Reply to  Team Player
05/21/2023 7:26 pm

hay, I gots an unuzed speelchucker perogerammy iffin ya needz wun

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