Walter Lantz: Italian of the Week

10498930_1Walter Lantz was born on April 27, 1899, in New Rochelle, New York. His parents, Maria (née Gervasi) and Francesco Paulo Lantz were immigrants from Calitri, Italy. When Francesco arrived in America, immigration officials anglicized his last name from Lanza to Lantz. When Walter was 12, he participated in a mail-order cartoon drawing class, where he learned the basics. A few years later, he was working as an office boy for a newspaper owned by William Randolph Hearst. In 1916, he was hired by Morrell Goddard (the creator of the nation’s first newspaper comic section that was in color) as a cartoonist.

Woody-woodpecker-title-cardBy 1928, Walter moved to Hollywood and began to work for Universal Studios producing and creating animated cartoons. While at Universal, he developed stories for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Space Mouse. His most famous character, however, was developed after his wife dreamed up a story about a woodpecker that was incessantly pecking on their roof. Woody the Woodpecker was born. The character would be Walter’s most popular cartoon and was also voiced by his wife, Grace. Following his retirement in the early 1970s, Walter kept busy by working with nonprofits, visiting children in hospitals (and drawing cartoons for them while Grace would speak in her Woody voice), and donating animation and cartoon artifacts to museums around the United States. Walter passed away on March 22, 1994.

Sources: LA Times, Britannica, UCLA Film & Television Archive

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