Walter Lantz Productions

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Walter Lantz Studios

Founded:

1929 to 1949, 1951 to 1972

Closed:

1972

Description


Walter Lantz was born on April 27th, 1899 in New Rochelle, New York, and died in Burbank, California on March 22nd 1994. He was one of the most prolific Hollywood producer, director, animator, Oscar nominated and produced more than 800 shorts, more than any other studio. Walter Lantz’s studio was renown for producing the Woody Woodpecker cartoons which became a huge hit in the 40′s.

After working at Universal Pictures, his work on the live-action Andy Gump comedies impressed Universal founder Carl Laemmle so much that he was put in charge of running the newly created Universal Studio Cartoons in 1929. He took over the direction of Oswald the Rabbit, which was first created by Walt Disney, and later taken over by Universal as they owned the rights to it. Lantz worked on the cartoon until 1936 and in 1933, he received a Best Director Oscar nomination for Oswald the Rabbit cartoon, The Merry Old Soul.

Universal was slipping into financial difficulties in the mid 30′s, due to Laemmel’s son, Carl Laemmel Jr who had mismanaged and suffered losses, leading to the shareholders forcing them out of Universal. With this opportunity, Lantz asked for the studio to be independent, though it was on the Universal lot.

It was in November 1935 that Lantz officially opened his own Studio, producing cartoons that were to be distributed by Universal. Oswald was then his biggest star, but Lantz also directed other cartoons such as Knights For A Day (1936), Li’l Eight Ball (1939) in a show about a black youngster created by Burt Gillet.

In 1939, Lantz created Andy Panda, and by 1940, Universal announced that they were ending distribution on cartoons by Walter Lantz Studios, forcing Lantz to mortgage everything he owned so as to keep the studio afloat.In 1940, Lantz Productions ran into a brief period of trouble as Universal was cutting their funds for the animation department, reaching a settlement with them in the fall of 1940.

The company was distributed by Universal at this point, but in 1947, Lantz was forced to change his distribution to United Artists as Universal wanted the licensing on Lantz’ characters, which he refused. This resulted in the release of 12 cartoons through UA during 1948 to 1949. Through UA, Lantz’ shorts earned a percentage of sales in theatres, which turned out to be very little, and he was forced to temporarily close the studio, choosing to reissue older films during this time through Universal.

While honeymooning with his wife, Lantz was struck with inspiration by a pesky woodpecker he encountered in a cabin on a rural resort. At his wife’s suggestion, Lantz ran with this idea of the woodpecker and created the crazy, annoyingly funny character Woody Woodpecker. Woody Woodpecker went on to be wildly popular, receiving nominations at the Academy Awards, and very popular in theatres. Woody was Lantz’s studio’s representative character, but the supporting cast in the show was just as endearing and entertaining.

Lantz fortune changed after the Golden Age of Animation, with Woody Woodpecker becoming a theatrical phenomenon, but the character changed and received body modifications throughout the 40′s and 50′s. In 1948, Woody Woodpecker Song received an Oscar for “Best Song”. As he moved into more of a producer role, Lantz hired on many talented animators at the studio to produce and direct cartoons including figures such as Preston Blair, Tex Avery, Dick Lundy, and Shamus Culhane.

In 1950, the studio reopened, and the first work done by the studio was a Woody Woodpecker sequence for George pal’s feature film Destination Moon. Lantz, in addition, renegotiated the Universal contract, and in the following year, 7 cartoons were contracted to be made all featuring Woody. These were huge successes with audiences and 6 cartoons were contracted for the following year. In the 50′s, after the Paramount degree and the changes in book-blocking, theatrical cartoon shorts were no longer sold with feature films, and budgets were reduced severely. Lantz and Universal had to start selling their products to television.

The Woody Woodpecker Show debuted on ABC in 1957 in the fall, featuring a live-action sequence staring Walter Lantz, taking the viewers into the animation studio and revealing the process of creating the characters, the story, and the “cartunes

By the 60′s, most other studios had discontinued shorts in the theatrical cartoon business, leaving Walter Lantz as one of the two studios left, the other being DePatie and Freleng Enterprises.

From 1967-1972, Lantz Productions created cartoons that were distributed by Universal as a package, but the rising inflation were a hard strain on profit margins and he was forced to close the studio in 72.

The Walter Lantz Studio had a history of producing cartoons of “medium” quality, dubbed “cartunes”. Lantz Productions was considered superior in quality to that of Paramount (Famous Studios) and Terrytoons, but never gained the artistic acclaim of other studios like WB, MGM and Disney. Unlike other studios with perhaps pernicious management, Lantz Productions became a rebound for animators who wanted a more enjoyable working environment, such as Tex Avery who deflected from other studios.

In Lantz’s studio history, characters produced include Chilly Willy, Winchester the Tortoise, Homer Pigeon, and The Beary Family. After 1984, Lantz sold all of his rights to the characters to Universal, but was a consultant overseeing the products and merchandise up until his death in 1994. 

Select filmography:


  • The King of Jazz (1930)
  • Oswald the Rabbit (1929-1936)
  • Meany, Miny and Moe (1936-1937)
  • Knights For A Day (1936) 
  • Lil‘ Eight Ball (1939)
  • Stubborn Mule (1939) 
  • Life Begins for Andy Panda (1939)  
  • Swing Symphonies (1941-45)
  • Juke Box Jamboree (1942)
  • Musical Miniatures (1946-1948)
  • The Poet & Peasant (1945)
  • The Legend of Rockabye Point (1955) 
  • Chilly Willy (1953-1972)
  • The Woody Woodpecker Show (1957-1972)

References:


  • Lenburg, Jeff. Who’s Who in Animated Cartoons . New York : Applause Theatre & Cinema Books , 2006 . Print.