Saturday, 11 April 2015

A Bloody Lantz Cartoon

Walter Lantz should have been a happy man in 1952. He announced in August he was doubling his staff and boosting his output from six to 13 cartoons for the coming season. His characters were making appearances in comic books. He had a division that made TV commercials (in March, Variety reported he had hired Homer Brightman, Phil Eastman and Bill Scott; the latter two likely didn’t stay long). A deal for a Woody Woodpecker book series had been signed with Simon and Schuster in March. The next year, he’d add Mike Maltese and Tex Avery to his staff and Bill Garity would develop a 3-D process for him (which was used in one cartoon, the Don Patterson-directed “Hypnotic Hick.”

Lantz happened to be in New York in December 1952, closing a deal with Coca-Cola for a series of commercials to run in theatres. Lantz was pretty publicity conscious and he sat down for a softball interview with a syndicated columnist named Alice Hughes. Not everything in her story is quite correct, but at least it doesn’t mention to bogus “honeymoon” story about Woody Woodpecker’s creation. Lantz comes across as an unassuming guy who likes cartoons, which is the impression he left a few years later as the somewhat stiff co-host of the Woody Woodpecker cartoon series for Kellogg’s.

New York, Dec. 29—Don’t know what the town of New Rochelle, a few miles off New York city limits, has that nourishes top cartoonists. But I do know that two of the best movie cartoon animators were born and brought up there. One is Paul Terry, widely known for Terry Tunes on film and for a huge circulation of comic books whose characters are always birds and animals, never people. Then there is Walter Lantz with whom I spent an hour while he was in New York en route for a vacation in Mexico. Lantz was apprenticed in 1916 as cartoonist under the late Gregory La Cava, animating others’ characters such as Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan and Krazy Kat. Soon, however, he created his own Pete the Pup, Dinky Doodle and others. Finally Oswald the Rabbit landed him a fancy contract with Universal Films in 1928.
Seven years later Lantz fell in love with a panda at a Chicago zoo, and thus Andy the Panda was born and is to this day his second most-profitmaking cartoon character. First is Woody Woodpecker, a real-life carpenter bird who annoyed artist Lantz by tapping a $200 hole in the roof of a California house Lantz and his former-actress wife, Grace Stafford, occupied.
The tap-tap peck and the cartoon character it inspired have since parlayed that $200 into $2,000,000 plus much fame and acclaim. Woody the Woodpecker became a song on the Hit Parade. Boys and girls formed clubs called by its name. It became a symbol for saving forestry and today Walter Lantz is enjoying the proudest moment of his life. Woody has gone into a minute-and-a-half film cartoon urging birds of all kinds to donate blood for Red Cross war-time blood-banks. Lantz gifted the Red Cross with this finished film.
The red-tipped woodpecker urges all his feathered friends to give blood. When it comes hit turn, the cartoon shows his crimson crew-cut dim into pale pink as his blood drains into the bloodbank. There are many laughs, yet also a strong encouragement to people to go and do likewise. You’ll be seeing this animated short in all movie theaters and on TV, and shortly afterward Walter Lantz will do another cartoon with his bird and beast characters exhorting the public to give blood for the purpose of obtaining the gamma globulin injection, an accepted preventive for polio.
“Are comic books harmful for children?” I asked. “Not the way we draw them,” said Lantz. “The Association of Animated Cartoon Producers, of which I am president, never has trouble with censorship. As we know our efforts are seen and heard by millions of children all over the world, we observe the strictest rules of taste and decency. We’re not even permitted to draw udders on cows, and Walt Disney, Paul Terry and I—four of the seven members of the Animated Cartoon Producers —often laugh at how school-teacherish we are at our work. But we realize that this profession has at traction for many young artists, and highest standards are necessary.
“It takes a good 10 years of experience before an artist can become a good cartoon animator. Besides a good background in art knowledge and drawing, he has to have a sense of timing like an actor, sensitivity of facial expression like a sculptor and the patience of a saint to make the 7000 drawings necessary for a 6-minute film. Each slightest movement of a bird or animal requires a separate drawing and the animators need two assistants to carry on their work. I employ 60 artists to make 19 films a year, including seven Woody Woodpecker pictures and others such as Andy Panda, Buzz Buzzard, Wally Walrus, also comic books and quite a few commercial films for big industrial firms. We work in our own Walter Lantz Bldg., in 17,000 square feet of space, where we do a full-scale production of animated cartoons and TV films.”
Walter Lantz is 50-ish, gray-haired, blue-eyed, not tall, very friendly homespun in manner and with a refreshing modesty for a movie producer. He earns ten times as much as his brother Michael Lantz, a sculptor, who is conceded by Walter to be ten times better than Walt himself as an artist. Exciting outlook for 1953 is his new series of Foolish Fables, which are animated movie cartoons burlesqued from well-known fairy tales, in modern dress and modern situations. Lantz-film cartoons are dubbed into seven different foreign languages for children all over the world to enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment