by Kevin S. Butler
October 3, 2012 marks the 55th anniversary of the debut of The Woody Woodpecker Show.
Actor and veteran animator Walter Lantz created and produced Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, Foolish Fables cartoons for movie goers of the 1930s and '40s. He decided to bring his pint size bird with the machine gun beak and his friends to the small screen in 1957 after making a deal with Leonard Goldenson and the heads of ABC.
The Woody Woodpecker Show was seen on Thursday nights in primetime in a program that screened not only Woody's films but those from the late-1940's featuring Andy Panda and Oswald.
Between the cartoons, Lantz would show viewers how Woody and his friends were drawn and filmed. Unlike his contemporary, Walt Disney, Lantz had a more hands on approach to cartooning, he actually went to the drawing board and created Woody right there for the kids. He also demonstrated how characters moved, how stories were created, which expressions fit the characters, and what motivated him to create Woody's adventures.
Walter Lantz had a fun, creative and interesting means of getting his young viewers interested in animation.
ABC cancelled The Woody Woodpecker Show on September 25, 1958.
Woody Woodpecker cartoons didn't return to TV until 1964, this time in syndication with a series that screened films from the late-1950's and the 1960's along with the adventures of Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, Maw And Paw, The Foolish Fables, Sugarfoot, and one Space Mouse cartoon. (Space Mouse's voice was provided by former NBC/CBS kid's show comedy performer 'Uncle' Johnny Coons.)
Mr. Lantz also filmed some new intros for this syndicated edition along with two new segments - one that showed newsreels of events from history and another titled 'Around The World With Woody' where Lantz and his little bird pal would narrate films highlighting life around of the globe.
Lantz even created and hosted a 1964 TV special Woody Woodpecker's Spookananny, a Halloween special where the boss and his animated friends throw a Halloween party, complete with reruns of old movie cartoons and a new segments where Woody and his friends sang and danced to the tune 'Spookananny.'
NYC resident kids TV hosts/performers Chuck McCann and Hank Stohl hosted their own Woody Woodpecker Halloween parties from the WPIX TV studio in 1964 and 1965.
The Woody Woodpecker Show returned to network TV in the fall of 1970 when NBC added the series to their Saturday morning schedule. The program aired from Saturday, September 12, 1970 until Saturday, September 3, 1977. The films were screened minus Mr. Lantz' hosting segments.
Woody reappeared in syndication during the early-1980's, for instance WNEW TV 5 in NYC aired the films weekday afternoons and mornings during that period.
When Channel 5 became a part of the Fox TV network, The Woody Woodpecker Show was seen as a segment of The Fox Five Kids Club weekday afternoons from December, 1989 until Friday March 15, 1991. Craig Marin's "Flexitoon Puppets" (including D.J. Kat) hosted the live segments between reruns of the films.
Woody Woodpecker made his last TV appearance in The New Woody Woodpecker Show, a 1999 series of cartoons made for Saturday mornings on the FOX network. Sadly, these new cartoons lacked the zaniness and the charm of the original theatrical films. The series was abruptly cancelled after a few weeks.
The Woody Woodpecker Show has recently been released on DVD where, along with the classic films, the wonderful Walter Lantz live segments from the TV series are included along with the Spookananny special.
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Beginning in 1964, WPIX Channel 11 in NYC aired the Woody Woodpecker Show on Tuesday nights for several years.
When WNEW TV Channel 5 in NYC reran The Woody Woodpecker Show in the 1980s they added new cartoon segments featuring Doc (a con artist cat) and his not too bright hench dog Champ (the voices for Doc and Champ were performed by Paul Frees and Dal McKennon). The series also screened The Beary Family, an animated animal parody of The Life Of Riley. Paul Frees did the voices of Charley Beary and Junior. Gracie Stafford Lantz (Walter Lantz' wife) was the voice of Mrs. Bessie Beary. Mr. Frees also provided the voices for other characters in the series.
The later Woody Woodpecker Show also reran The Adventures Of Inspector Willoughby, a police detective who used his brains and unassuming brawn to foil super crooks. Dal McKennon provided the voices for Inspector Willouby and the many villains that appeared in the films.
75 original theatrical cartoons
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