Animator. Nationality: American. Born: New Rochelle, New York, 27 April 1900. Education: Attended the Arts Student League, New York. Family: Married 1) Doris Hollister (divorced 1940), 2) the actress Grace Stafford, 1940 (died 1992). Career: 1915–16—office boy, New York American; also cartoonist; 1916–18—camera assistant and animator on Hearst cartoon films, Cosmopolitan: worked on Jerry on the Job series; 1918–21—animator, Barre-Bowers Studio: worked on Mutt and Jeff cartoons; 1921–27—worked at Bray Studios: first animated film as director, Col. Heezaliar's Forbidden Fruit, 1924; 1927–29—gag writer, Mack Sennett studio; 1929–36—director at Universal; 1936–73—independent producer; directed only a few films after 1942; work for TV includes the series The Woody Woodpecker Show, 1957–66. Awards: Academy Award for TheMerry Old Soul, 1933; Special Academy Award, 1978. Died: Of heart failure, in Burbank, California, 22 March 1994.
Films as Director of Animation:
Col. Heezaliar's Forbidden Fruit; African Jungle; Col.Heezaliar's Ancestors; Sky Pilot; Col. Heezaliar's Vacation; Col. Heezaliar's Knighthood; Horse Play; The MagicLamp; The Giant Killer; The Pied Piper
Little Red Riding Hood; Lyin' Tamer; The House That DinkyBuilt; Cinderella; Peter Pan Handled; Magic Carpet; Robinson Crusoe; Three Bears; Just Spooks; Dinky Doodle inthe Circus (Dinky Doodle in the Restaurant)
Dinky Doodle in Lost and Found (Dinky Doodle in UncleTom's Cabin; Dinky Doodle in the Arctic; Dinky Doodle inEgypt; Dinky Doodle in the Wild West; Dinky Doodle andthe Little Orphan; Dinky Doodle in the Army); The Pelican's Bill; Dinky Doodle's Bed Time Story; Cat's Whiskers;The Mule's Disposition; The Pig's Curly Tail; For the Love'o Pete; Pete's Haunted House (Party); The Tail of theMonkey
Dog Gone It; Cat's Nine Lives; Hyena's Laugh; PuppyExpress; Petering Out; S'matter, Pete?; Lunch Hound;Jingle Bells
Ozzie of the Circus; Stage Stunt; Stripes and Stars; WickedWest; Nuts and Jolts; Ice Man's Luck; Wear Willies; JungleJingles; Saucy Sausages; Race Riot; Oil's Well; PermanentWave; Cold Turkey; Amature Nite; Hurdy Gurdy; NuttyNotes
Chile con Carmen; Kisses and Kurses; Broadway Folly;Bowery Bimboes; Bowling Bimboes; Tramping Tramps;The Hash Shop; The Prison Panic; Hot for Hollywood;Hell's Heels; My Pal Paul; Not So Quiet; Spooks; HenFruit; Cold Feet; Snappy Salesman; The Singing Sap; TheDetective; The Fowl Ball; The Navy; Mexico; Africa; Alaska;Mars
China; College; Shipwrecked; The Farmer; The Fireman;Sunny South; The Country School; The Band Master; NorthWoods; The Stone Age; Radio Rhythm; Kentucky Bells; HotFeet; The Hunter; Wonderland; The Hare Mail; The Fisherman; The Clown
Mechanical Man; Grandma's Pet; Wins Out; Beau and Arrows;Making Good; Let's Eat; The Winged Horse; To the Rescue; Cat Nipped; A Wet Knight; A Jungle Jumble; DayNurse; The Athlete; The Busy Barber; The Butcher Boy;Carnival Capers; The Crowded Snores; The Underdog;Wild and Woolly; Cats and Dogs; The Teacher's Pests
Merry Dog; The Plumber; The Terrible Troubadour; TheShriek; The Lumber Chumps; Going to Blazes; Beau Beste;Nature's Workshop; Ham and Eggs; Pin Feathers; Confidence; Hot and Cold; King Klunk; Five and Dime; TheyDone Him Right; The Zoo; The Merry Old Soul; ParkingSpace
Chicken Reel; The Candy House; The Country Fair; The ToyShoppe; Wolf! Wolf!; The Ginger Bread Boy; Annie MovedAway; Goldielocks and the Three Bears; The Wax Works;William Tell; Chris Columbus, Jr.; The Dizzy Dwarf; YeHappy Pilgrims; Jolly Little Elves; The Sky Larks; Spring inthe Park; Toyland Premiere
Robinson Crusoe Isle; The Hillbilly; Two Little Lambs; Doa Good Deed; Candy Lamb; Elmer the Great Dane; Springtime Serenade; Towne Hall Follies; At Your Service; ThreeLazy Mice; Bronco Buster; Amateur Broadcast; The QuailHunt; The Fox and the Rabbit; Monkey Wretches; The Caseof the Lost Sheep; Doctor Oswald
Soft Ball Game; Alaska Sweepstakes; Slumberland Express;Beauty Shoppe; Barnyard Five; Fun House; Farming Fools;Battle Royal; Music Hath Charms; Kiddie Review; BeachCombers; Night Life of the Bugs; The Puppet Show; Unpopular Mechanic; Turkey Dinner; Gopher Trouble; Knightsfor a Day
The Golfers; House of Magic; Everybody Sings; The Big Race;Duck Hunt; Lumber Camp; The Birthday Party; SteelWorkers; Trailer Thrills; The Stevedores; The Wily Weasel;Countr y Store; The Playful Pup; Fireman's Picnic; RestResort; Ostrich Feathers; Air Express; Lovesick; The Keeperof the Lions; The Mechanical Handy Man; Football Fever;The Mysterious Jug; The Dumb Cluck
Yokel Boy Makes Good
Crazy House; Knock, Knock; Syncopated Sioux
Fair Today; Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat; HystericalHigh Spots in American History; Dizzy Kitty; Salt WaterDaffy; Woody Woodpecker; The Screwdriver; The BoogieWoogie Bugle Boy of Company B; Man's Best Friend;Pantry Panic; $21.00 a Day Once a Month
Hollywood Matador; The Hams That Couldn't Be Cured;Mother Goose on the Loose; Goodbye Mr. Moth
Wicket Wacky; Slingshot 67/8; Redwood Sap; Woody Woodpecker Polka; Destination Meatball
Born to Peck; Stage Hoax; Woodpecker in the Rough; ScalpTreatment; The Great Who Dood It
Bats in the Belfry (+ pr); Coca Cola Cartoons
Poet and Peasant
By LANTZ: articles—
"Let's Try Animation," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1934.
Films and Filming (London), July 1965.
Griffithiana (Gemona, Italy), December 1986.
"Woodpeckers, Rabbits and Pandas—Oh My!" an interview with Frank Cali, in Outré (Evanston), no. 6, 1996.
On LANTZ: book—
Adamson, Joe, The Walter Lantz Story, New York, 1985.
On LANTZ: articles—
Films and Filming (London), April 1971.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), Fall 1971.
Maltin, Leonard, in Of Mice and Magic, New York, 1980.
Lenburg, Jeff, in The Great Cartoon Directors, London, 1983.
Obituary, in The New York Times, 23 March 1994.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 28 March 1994.
Obituary, in Time, 4 April 1994.
Cali, F., "June Foray," in Outré (Evanston), vol. 1, no. 6, 1996.
* * *
Although his obituary in Variety called him one of the most successful and durable animation producers of all time, "Nice guys finish last" can truly be said about Walter Lantz. Lantz was the last major producer of theatrical cartoon shorts, closing shop in 1973 after 45 years in the business. Because of his pleasant personality Lantz never raided other cartoon studios for talent. And yet some of the biggest names in the business had worked for him. Tex Avery, Jack Hannah, and Hugh Harman were just three of the talents who had entered his studio over the years. Lantz was a sound businessman and produced cartoons on a budget, though he didn't skimp on his cartoon production.
Lantz began his career as an animator, and got his big break at Universal Studios where he took over the Walt Disney creation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He made history when he and his partner Bill Nolan completed the first Technicolor cartoon. The five-minute opening sequence of Universal's multimillion dollar musical The King of Jazz was a jaunty musical number featuring Whiteman vocalist Bing Crosby. In 1935 Lantz went on to become an independent producer giving distribution rights to Universal. He was still using the character of Oswald the Rabbit, but realized that if his studio were to succeed he needed to introduce new characters. After a series of unsuccessful character creations, Lantz tried looking for animals that had never been used in cartoons before. One of Lantz's studio personnel, Alex Lovy, had come up with Andy Panda, who was to become one of Lantz's most successful characters. At first Andy starred with his thick-witted, lumbering father whom Andy always managed to get into trouble. As the series progressed Andy grew older, and the father/son story lines were dropped. In 1940 Ben "Bugs" Hardaway joined the studios. Hardaway had recently left Warner Bros. where he created such superstar notables as Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. His goal was to create a similar character for Lantz. He decided that the father/son pandas would provide the perfect introduction to Woody Woodpecker. Woody made his debut in Knock, Knock as a rapscallion woodpecker. Andy and Pop make every effort to get rid of the annoying woodpecker, but like Daffy and Bugs he outsmarts them, at every turn getting the better of the situation. It was in this cartoon that Woody's infamous laugh—"haha-ha-HA-ha"—was heard for the first time. Initially Woody was a rather ugly, grotesque-looking character. Over the years that changed as Woody became more likeable and easygoing. But in those early years Woody was an extremely daffy lunatic. He was unlike other Lantz characters in almost every way, often violent and excessively active. Lantz directed most of the early Woody films in an almost frenetic pace. They can easily be differentiated from the evenly paced work of Alex Lovy. Lovy left the studio in 1942 and Lantz had to find someone to take his place. That person was James "Shamus" Culhane. He took on the Woody Woodpecker character and continued in the frantic manner of Lantz with his first Woody cartoon, The Barber of Seville. Culhane continued directing Woody Woodpecker cartoons with a similar brand of violent humor usually found in Tex Avery cartoons.
After the Second World War, Lantz and his studio went through some rather hard times and he had to close down for over a year. When he finally reopened, he had to be more cost-conscious than ever. To save money, Lantz went back to directing, produced only Woody Woodpecker cartoons, and hired his wife to become the voice of Woody Woodpecker. After producing several cartoons in 1951–52, Lantz was once again able to expand his operation and increase cartoon production. In 1954 Tex Avery returned to the Lantz studios and provided a needed shot in the arm. Despite the poor quality of animation, Avery's first cartoon for Lantz, Crazy Mixed-Up Pup was nominated for an Academy Award. Avery went on to feature a new character originally created by Alex Lovy, Chilly Willy, a penguin who desired nothing more than a warm climate. In The Legend of Rockabye Point Avery earned another Academy Award nomination. Avery soon left the studio over salary negotiations, but his influence had already seeped into the studio. When Avery left, Lovy once again returned to the studio.
In 1957 Lantz began to eye television as a possible outlet for his cartoons. Jack Hannah joined the studio and began working on The Woody Woodpecker Show, which combined previous theatrical releases with newly animated sequences and live-action shots featuring Lantz himself. Woody would introduce him by saying, "Here's my boss, Walter Lantz." This segment of the show explained the process of how cartoons are created, first for television and cartoon animation. These early television programs helped Lantz to continue producing cartoons for theatrical release, although higher costs reduced the amount of animation—fewer cels per second. Chilly Willy and Woody Woodpecker remained his most popular cartoons. They lasted until Lantz retired, unable to recoup production costs quickly.
In 1979 the Motion Picture Academy honored Lantz and his contribution to the field of animation. Lantz responded by having Woody Woodpecker accept the award with him. Lantz may not be as revered as Disney but he produced satisfying cartoons, provided the world with one of the most interesting characters in Woody Woodpecker, and remained a most dedicated cartoon animator. If anyone truly loved his craft, it was Walter Lantz.
—Maryann Oshana, updated by Denise Delorey