Monday, April 27, 2020

Woody Woodpecker's Roots in New Rochelle - 120 Years Ago Today

Walter Benjamin Lantz
Walter Benjamin Lantz, animator, producer and director, was born on April 27, 1900 in New Rochelle, New York to Italian immigrant parents. His father, whose surname Lanzas was anglicized to Lantz by a immigration official, was soap maker by trade, but became a butcher when he moved to New Rochelle. The family lived at 169 Washington Avenue.

Lantz was always interested in art, having completed a mail order drawing class at age 12. While working as an auto mechanic, he got his first break when a wealthy customer named Fred Kafka liked his drawings posted on the garage's bulletin board and financed his studies at Art Students League. Kafka also helped him get a job as a copy boy at the New York American

In 1927, Lantz moved to Hollywood, where he worked as an independent producer and founded Walter Lantz Productions. His most famous cartoon characters were Andy Panda, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Woody Woodpecker. He is credited with producing the first Technicolor cartoon. 
Woody Woodpecker

It was during Lantz's honeymoon with actress Grace Stafford in 1941 at a lakeside cottage that he found the inspiration for his most famous creation. When the couple heard a woodpecker drilling holes in the shingles of the roof, Grace suggested adapting the bird as a cartoon character. She eventually went on to become the voice of the pesky bird after her husband initially turned her down because Woody was a male character. Undeterred, Grace secretly made an audition tape and submitted it anonymously. Not knowing whose voice was being heard, Lantz picked Grace's voice to do Woody and his raucous laugh. 

Walter Lantz received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement for his for contributions to the art of animation. His Woody Woodpecker artifacts are part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1982, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2011, Lantz was among the first notables to be inducted into the New Rochelle Walk of Fame. He died on March 22, 1994, at home in California.  
Woody Woodpecker's Hollywood Walk of Fame Star

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