Saturday, 9 May 2015

Censor That Woody!

The Walter Lantz studio managed to survive the ups and downs of the cartoon business until1972 when the operation finally shut down. Lantz could have continued making cartoons—there was still a demand for them in theatres—but it was more profitable for him just to have Universal re-release his old ones.

Lantz had money troubles at various times over the years. And he ran afoul of censors. Pat Matthews’ Miss X character appeared in two musical cartoons in the mid-40s before being banished. And he had other troubles, too. Here’s Hedda Hopper to explain it in a column from 1954, suggesting even in the uptight world of the ‘50s, the limits on Lantz were kind of stupid.

Looking at Hollywood
Censors Draw Line on What Movie Cartoonist Can Sketch

BY HEDDA HOPPER

HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 29-If you think Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, and Ava Gardner give studio bosses headaches, take a gander at Woody Woodpecker. Poor Woody-he can’t even milk a cow in a cartoon unless Bossie wears a skirt. La Russell’s snaky hips and Gardner's cause producers migraine but Walter Lantz, the comic woodpecker creator, has never been allowed by the censor’s office even to let Woody kiss a girl. O, yes, girls can kiss Woody. He can’t say "gosh," but he can
say "golly." However, he’s not allowed to have a human girl friend, a human cartoon girl friend, that is. . . . Lantz wanted to do a take-off on Audie Murphy’s "To Hell and Back" and cooked up a cartoon angle to have Woody starring in "To Heck and Back," but the production code boys nixed the word "heck." . . . These problems roll off Walter like water off Woody’s bill. Lantz is a pioneer of animated cartoons. "When you understand the reason for censorship stricter than any held over glamor girls," says he, "you relax. Tho adults love them, cartoons are for kids and we’ve got to bend over backward."
WALTER IS CELEBRATING his 25th anniversary with Universal-International, and recalls many headaches far worse than censor snooping. He once conceived the idea of a series called "Seeing Stars" in which top Hollywood personalities were caricatured. The stars loved it, but when their agents started demanding 10 per cent, Lantz put the series in the deep freeze.... Then there was the cartoon "Hollywood Bowl," in which the expressive hands of Conductor Leopold Stokowski were shown getting stuck in a woman’s hair curlers. The maestro didn’t think it funny. He threatened suit and the picture was shelved. But when U. I. signed him for a top role in Deanna Durbin’s "100 Men and a Girl," he reconsidered.
DISNEY, the master himself, headed the committee which organized the anniversary celebration for Lantz. Neither looks upon the other as a competitor. They figure that any good cartoon which entertains is good for the other guy’s business. . . . Their friendship goes back a long way. Disney, who worked at Universal when Lantz came to head up the animation factory, was preparing to go independent and scare up some money to finance a little brain wave called Mickey Mouse. Disney left on his drawing board a character named Oswald Rabbit which Lantz re-designed somewhat, copyrighted, and made the king of his animal kingdom. . . . Lantz is fighting against the horror comics. He sees no reason in the first place to call them "comics" because they re not funny. By no stretch of the imagination does he think they belong on the same news stand with the animal comics by himself and Disney.
IT COSTS AS MUCH per foot of film to make a 6 minute cartoon as it does to make a big picture at a major studio. Making 13 cartoons a year at a total cost of $35,000 each, it takes Walter four years just to get his production costs back on each comedy. This doesn’t include the cost of buying and equipping a studio. So let that he a lesson to aspiring caricaturists who want to storm Hollywood and start pecking out the old money juice from the same tree Woody does.

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