Woody Woodpecker, a Retrospective

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Woody Woodpecker circa 1944.

In 1940, Walter Lantz married the love of his life, Grace Stafford and took his blushing bride on what was supposed to be a romantic honeymoon in a quaint, mountain town. Unfortunately, what they weren’t expecting was an an extremely annoying fowl foiled their fun.

This little woodpecker pecked so many holes in their cabin that when it began to rain their shelter was turned into a shack. Instead of shooting the pest, Stafford convinced Lantz to create a story featuring the bird called, Knock, Knock designed by Alex Lovy and originally voiced and given his trademake laugh by the one-and-only Mel Blanc.

Unfortunately, NBCUniversal has let this gem of a character slip into obscurity for awhile like Koko The Clown, Felix The Cat, Fitz The Dog, Mutt and Jeff and to a lessor extent, Betty Boop. However, thanks to Alex Zamm, the director of the new Woody Woodpecker film, interest in this beloved character as resurfaced.

It took Zamm 12 years to get Woody Woodpecker off the ground out of sheer love and determination that this character needed to be seen by a new generation. Yes, Universal Studios still has Woody and Winnie walking around the parks and yes, you can still buy the DVDs at the parks and online, but the question remained for some of the younger generation,

Woody Woodpecker circa 1961.

who is Woody Woodpecker?

Woody Woodpecker is the ID part of our psychological development, the perpetual teenager that does the things that we wish we could do in our day-to-day lives and gets away with them. Woody is the greatest friend or the worst enemy you could have depending on which side of the fence you’re seated.

In the earliest incarnations, Woody was beyond screwball, he was downright vindictive and almost dastardly, but eventually he became more kid-friendly and as iconic as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (also characters Lovy had designed in the 1930s before Chuck Jones revamped them for Warner Bros.).

As Woody evolved from a traditional bird-like look to a more humanoid character with a pompadour haircut, batting wits with Andy Panda, Buzz Buzzard and Wally Walrus. In 1947 the popularity of Woody Woodpecker was so great that musicians George Tibbles and Ramey Idriss wrote “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” theme song, making use of the character’s infamous laugh. In 1948, Kay Kyser’s 1948 recorded the song, with Harry Babbitt’s laughtrack vocalist Gloria Wood, became one of the biggest hit singles of that year.

Woody Woodpecker, circa 2018.

Dan Webb would take over voicing Woody for Mel Blanc and after his 1944 redesign by Ben Hardway, he would be voiced by him as well until the definitive voice for Woody Woodpecker, who was also the voice of reason on that honeymoon, Grace Stafford, who voiced her husband’s creation from 1950 to 1991, shortly before her passing in 1992. Eventually, Billy West took over the voice of Woody for Stafford and now, doing Lantz’s character the most justice since the passing of his wife, is Eric Bauza, who brings Woody Woodpecker into the 21st century!

What’s great about Woody is the physical comedy that transcends languages. Slapstick is the great equalizer, which was the best kind of visual gags since the inception of film through the silent era.

Woody Woodpecker has been in over 200 plus short films, had his own series of cartoons throughout the 1960s to 1980s, appeared in comic books and translated into multiple languages. His most recent incarnation on the big screen in South America, received a theatrical release and prominently featured in Portuguese.

Woody Woodpecker is out on on DVD and VOD in the United States and in theaters throughout South America, via Universal 1440.

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