Saturday 12 October 2019

Bloody Woodpecker

Cartoon characters have been used over the years to shill products—think of Woody Woodpecker and a certain cola. And they’ve also been used in the field of public service.

You can think of Woody Woodpecker again.

The impression I’ve always had of Walter Lantz is a friendly man, interested in his community (and constantly finding ways to cut down on expenses). It would appear he was approached to make a cartoon to encourage people to donate blood, and agreed to use his star character in them. Whether he did this from the goodness of his heart or charged for them is unclear. As the story below doesn’t state it was done for free, I would suspect Lantz got a cheque.

The artwork for this cartoon is, no doubt, in the Lantz archives at UCLA. The PSA itself, sadly, isn’t on line. All we can do is post this little news story wherein Lantz talks about how cartoons are made and the expense thereof.

It’s a little surprising to read musical director Clarence Wheeler had a 24-piece orchestra at his disposal (being paid at union rates). One of the 1950s Woodys he scored has little more than a small Wurlitzer organ in the background.

The story was published by the North American Newspaper Alliance on January 11, 1953; I haven’t found a version with a byline. Universal had released What's Sweepin' not too many days before this. It was directed by Don Patterson; the frames in this post are from that short.

Woodpecker Appeals For Blood
NEW YORK (NANA)—Woody Woodpecker, dear to juvenile addicts of animated cartoons and comic strips, is the first to do his stuff in the cause of humanity.
Perhaps you saw Woody on the screens of movie houses of the nation, performing under auspices of the Red Cross, in its appeal for blood. The little act occupied only 1 1/2 minutes, yet was compelling.
Creator of the nation's "laugh-bird" is Walter Lantz, current producer of Woody, Wally Walrus, Buzz Buzzard, and others, whose early pictures include The Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, and Krazy Kat.
SHORT AS WOODY'S performance was, 45 artists from the Lantz studio in Los Angeles and an orchestra of 24 pieces were required to prepare it for screening.
Included also were several actors engaged to supply the woodpecker and other associates with voices. Hollywood actors supplement their incomes appreciably through talking the way ducks and walruses and mice and other cartoon subjects probably would talk, if they could. Pay depends upon what they have to do, but even the reader of a few lines receives $100. As for an actor of vocal versatility--four or five voices--rich is his reward.
Forty drawings, says Lantz, are required for a scene occupying 1 1/2 seconds.
"And a picture costs us $75 a foot, with that foot lasting two-thirds of a second. So," said Lantz, "you can see the process of shooting a cartoon is expensive. But," he added, "what with the sales to exhibitors and my cartoon books circulating 30 million annually, we happen to be able to stand production costs and make money besides."
WHY HAVE SO subjects of great popularity in past years either vanished from the screen, or appear only at long intervals?
"They have been killed off," Lantz said, "through too long and too frequent showings. Even Mickey Mouse, appears only occasionally these days. We have to watch for that. In the case of Woody Woodpecker, we limit him to seven pictures yearly. As time goes on we will have to reduce this number. Yet, after a complete 10-year lapse, we find our old pictures welcomed by a new generation."
A complete cartoon play, Lantz pointed out, involves at least 7,000 drawings and 100 persons of various capacities. Ten years are required for development of a new animated cartoon. Sound effects? Four to five hundred different voices, noises of various sorts, and other effects are used in every cartoon. There will be 600 or 700 drawings in every sequence of film play.
"Of course," said Lantz, "animated cartoon birds, animals, the like are accepted by kids as real. I just had word from Hollywood that the volume of Christmas mail addressed to Woody Woodpecker already has exceeded an estimated 15,000."
Walter Lantz, preceded in the animated cartoon and comic-strip field only by the late Winsor McKay [sic] and by the author of "Terrytoons," was born in New Rochelle of Italian parentage. He attended local public schools and later studied art at the Art Students League in New York. Of course, he loves animals and birds. He has a house full of them in Los Angeles.


  1. to think Walter Lantz if he was still with us actually had a passion on Making Animated cartoons & Comic Strips (like me because i'm a Cartoon Buff!) unlike the Cheapskate i-make-less-Money-than-Walt-Disney Paul Terry whom i wonder what his thoughts on making cartoons was like? then again he was the Woolworth's sadly but i do have a soft spot for the Walter Lantz cartoons. ;) sincerely Chuck.

  2. on a more personal note, since this was a PSA i'm curious on what the animation in this short "Blood is needed" looked like, no doubt full animation.