Walter Lantz, who was born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents,  actually had the surname Lanza until an immigration official anglicized it. Had he not, Walter could have grown up to be an opera singer rather than the creator of Woody Woodpecker and many other cartoon characters.

The first of these characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit star of a 1928 cartoon series for Lantz_OswaldUniversal Studios. The character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, had once belonged to Disney. Lantz won it in a game of poker.

Other less memorable characters followed: a trio of chimps, Meany, Miny and Moe; Baby-Face Mouse; Snuffy Skunk; Doxie (a dachshund); and monkeys Jock and Jill. One character stood out from the crowd – Andy Panda became the comic star for 1939.

A year later, Lantz married actress Grace Stafford. While on their honeymoon, Walter and Grace were pestered by an insistent woodywoodpecker02woodpecker pecking on their roof, and Grace suggested that Walter use the bird as a cartoon character. Woody Woodpecker appeared for the first time in an Andy Panda cartoon and soon became a leading character.

Mel Blanc was originally the voice of Woody Woodpecker, but after only three cartoons he left to join Warner Brothers. Lantz held anonymous auditions for a new Woody. Lantz’s wife Grace made a secret audition tape and was chosen to be the new voice. She continued in the part until production ceased in 1972.

Woody Woodpecker is the only comic character to have his own hit song. Kay Kyser recorded “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” a top hit and Academy Award nominee in 1948.

Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Oh, that’s the Woody Woodpecker song.  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore.

If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is crying.” And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is “Probably because of something you did.” — Jack Handey

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