Wednesday 25 November 2020

Guess Who?

Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny took away stardom from mild Porky Pig. Donald Duck took away stardom from mild Mickey Mouse. And so it was Woody Woodpecker took away stardom from mild Andy Panda.

It was just in time for the Walter Lantz studio, too.

Lantz toodled along through the ‘30s as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit became, well, mild. He tried cartoons with monkeys. He tried cartoons with a Great Dane. He tried a kid mouse. He tried a stereotyped black boy. Finally, he hit on a panda. So it was cartoons were made with a boy panda and a slow-burning, somewhat clumsy father.

Enter Bugs Hardaway.

Hardaway had quit Leon Schlesinger’s studio in 1940 but brought with him an idea which was with a heckling, insane rabbit. Hardaway put a bird suit on him, and Woody Woodpecker was born. He stole the show from the pandas in his debut, Knock Knock, which was released 80 years ago today. Lantz had signed a deal with Universal on August 27, 1940 and Variety reported on September 4th that one of 13 proposed cartoons was Knock Knock. Evidently it had been in the planning stages.

Here are some frames of Woody making his entrance. Daddy Panda fails to swat him with a two-by-four and Woody responds with a cartoon nose honk.

And, because I like looking for these, here are two consecutive frames. Where did the sawdust go?

Don’t buy the story that Woody was invented because of Walter Lantz’s honeymoon with Grace Stafford. They were even married yet. That tale started surfacing some time in the 1960s. Hardaway and long-time Lantzer Lowell Elliot get the story credit in this short. Alex Lovy and his brother-in-law Frank Tipper are credited as “artists” and former Harman-Ising musical director Frank Marsales is credited with the score. Darrell Calker wasn’t signed by the studio until December. By then, Lantz was having trouble with the Hays Office, which rejected the title Crumbs Along the Mohawk and he had to change it to Syncopated Sioux.

Sara Berner is Andy Panda and Mel Blanc plays Woody and Daddy Panda. Background artist Edgar Kiechle is uncredited.

Woody went through several designs—I still like the gooney design in this cartoon—and starred in some pretty fair cartoons in the 1940s. Lantz was forced to shut down for a couple of years, then cheapened out when he re-opened in the ‘50s. Woody went through a slow decline until he was as unfunny as he was unwatchable in the early ‘70s. He was revived for television some years later but remains one of the big stars of the theatrical cartoon era.


  1. This short was Frank Marsales' final score for Lantz.

  2. What did Lowell Elliott do before "Knock Knock", and what became of him after "Mother Goose on the Loose"?

  3. He was the studio's librarian for many years. He was a newspaper cartoonist in the '20s.