Saturday, 30 May 2015
Woody in Vietnam
Here’s an Associated Press story from January 18, 1970.
Woody Woodpecker Hit With Wounded GIs
By GENE HANDSAKER
HOLLYWOOD (AP) — Woody Woodpecker, a brash bird with a tassel top and a raucous cackle, scored a triumph with 5,600 GIs wounded in Vietnam.
Woody's creator, Walter Lantz, and Walter's wife Gracie, Woody's voice, have returned from visiting military hospitals in the Far East.
Woody Real Star
The Lantzes aside, Woody was the star. Lantz made 3,500 Woody Woodpecker sketches for patients — about 250 of them on plaster casts — and Gracie did the voice "thousands of times." Said Lantz: "It's the most gratifying thing we've ever done."
This was one of the USO's "handshake tours" to brighten hospital life for the wounded. Gypsy Rose Lee, Leif Erickson, Sebastian Cabot and others preceded the Lantzes.
The Lantzes, who claim a combined century in show business, are one of Hollywood's liveliest couples. The craggy-faced, raspy-voiced Walter, now in his 28th year of producing Woody Woodpecker animated cartoons, is 69. The warm-hearted, outgoing former Grace Stafford, actress and onetime vaudevillian, is 66.
"Hi, fellas," Walter would say, entering a hospital ward on the trip. "I'm Walter Lantz. This is Gracie, my wife, the voice of Woody Woodpecker, We're here from Hollywood just to shake your hands and let you know we're thinking about you."
The patients asked about cartoon-making, joked with the stars and requested endless repetitions of Woody's cackle.
Some patients tape-recorded the bird's laugh, and one said he'd blast it back at 4 a.m. "to shake up the doctors."
In 31 days the Lantzes traveled 20,000 miles and visited hospitals in Japan, Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines and Guam.
One of the nicest legacies the Lantzes could have left (Grace died in 1992, Walter in 1994) was to bequeath mounds of production material and film to the UCLA Film and Television Archive, where fans can study the Lantz cartoons (ah, if only it was on-line for those of us nowhere near Los Angeles). And the Walter Lantz Foundation is still around providing sizeable grants to advance the art of animation. Walter and Gracie are still doing good today.