Woody Woodpecker is yet another bird to join the hummingbird, toucan, penguin, yellow bird of unknown species, yellow canary, duck, and owl that have all flown (or waddled) onto our Sun City Peachtree bench.
An acorn woodpecker, Woody originated after a real woodpecker had driven producer Walter Lantz and his wife, Gracie, crazy on their honeymoon. They were staying in a cabin in California, and a noisy woodpecker just outside had kept them awake at night. When a heavy rain started, the couple learned that the woodpecker had bored holes in the cabin’s roof! Walter wanted to shoot the bird, but Gracie encouraged him to make a cartoon about the destructive bird instead. Woody Woodpecker was born.
Woody debuted in 1940 in the short film, Knock Knock alongside Andy Panda and his father. The woodpecker got his kicks pestering the two pandas, so Andy attempted revenge by trying to sprinkle salt on Woody’s tail in the belief that he would be able to capture the bird. He succeeded, much to Woody’s surprise, and the woodpecker was hauled off to the funny farm. In the end, Andy and his dad proved to be even crazier.
A star was born, and Lantz continued to have Woody appear in new films and shorts for Universal.
Have you ever noticed that Woody has a lot in common with Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny? That’s because Lantz created the woodpecker as a bit of a hybrid of the two characters. Woody has the energy, quirkiness, looniness, and demented nature of Daffy; and, he’s a wise guy like Bugs Bunny. Just to seal the deal, Woody even got Daffy’s and Bug’s voice actor for his first three cartoons!
Woody became so popular, that he was named the official mascot of Universal Studios. From 1982 until 1996, he had the honor of flying on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. Two years later, he got a fast and furious ride on the Williams Formula One race car, and then got to do it again the following year.
Although Woody has seen a lot of fame in all those appearances, he only ranked 46th on TV Guide’s list of the 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time, in 2002 and 2003. The following year, he ranked 25th on Animal Planet’s list of The 50 Greatest Movie Animals.
Over the years, as other humans took control of Woody Woodpecker’s appearance and personality, the bird went through several changes.
Currently, Woody is voiced by Billy West and appears in The New Woody Woodpecker Show on the Fox Kids TV series. He is now a smart and sympathetic protagonist; however, he does get into a bit of mischief with Wally Walrus, Ms. Meany, and Buzz Buzzard.
Woody may not be the all-time favorite here in the U.S.A., but he ranks #1 for Brazilians. They love him there!