Chilly Willy

      New Rochelle, NY

      Gracie Lantz
      (voice of Woody Woodpecker)
    Date of Birth:
      April 27, 1899

    Date of Passing:

Walter Lantz was born into an immigrant Italian family in New Rochelle, New York. A newspaper cartoonist during his teens, he became an animator with Gregory La Cava and then worked with the animation pioneers at Bray Studios. In the late twenties he moved to Hollywood, landing a job with Universal Pictures. In 1935 he started his own production company, striking a deal with Universal to provide cartoons on a regular basis. Five years later, Walter Lantz Productions became a completely independent company. Eventually, its activities expanded to other areas such as television and the merchandising of cartoon-related products.

In a remarkable career that spanned 70 years and earned him 10 Oscar nominations, Walter Lantz moved easily from silent films to talkies to Technicolor and television. He produced and hosted the popular television series The Woody Woodpecker Show and created a family of cartoon characters that appeared in 800 films and 72 countries. "One reason they don't really date is that we use no puns or popular phrases of the time," he once said. "Also, they are made up of two-thirds physical and sight gags and only one-third dialogue. This is a secret of their success in foreign countries too. Often we don't even translate the dialogue." In 1979, four years after the last "Woody Woodpecker" cartoon was produced, Lantz was given a special Academy Award "for bringing joy and laughter to every part of the world." On March 5, 1986, at age 86, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He died in 1994 at the age of 94 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank of heart failure, two years after his wife and Woody Woodpecker voice actress Gracie Lantz died.

As the head of his own animation studio, Lantz made animation history by producing the first ever Technicolor cartoon--the five-minute opening sequence of "The King of Jazz." During his career, Lantz created such everlasting memorable characters as Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, and a host of others!

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