A peek through the knothole at two record albums featuring classic Walter Lantz characters – Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy, Andy Panda – as well as the radiant Mrs. Lantz.
WOODY WOODPECKER’S FAMILY ALBUM
Decca Records DL-8659 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Mono / 1957)
Reissue: MCA Records MCAD-13300 (12” 33 1/3 RPM Picture Disc LP / Mono / ca. 1978)
Producer: Charles Dant. Writer: Homer Brightman. Musical Director: Clarence Wheeler. Running Time: 37 minutes.
Voices: Grace Stafford (Lantz) (Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy); Mel Blanc (Pepito, Sailor, Malamute, Andy Panda, Fluten Bluten, Heinie the Hyena, Homer Pigeon, Cuckoo, Oswald the Rabbit) Gloria Wood (Chilly Willy, Oswald the Rabbit, Homer Pigeon, Lead Vocalist); The Woodyettes, The Walter Lantz Cartune Orchestra.
Songs: “The Woody Woodpecker Song” by George Tibbles and Ramey Idriss; “Pepito Chickito” by Clarence Wheeler and Irving Bibo; “Chilly Willy, The Penguin” by Irving Bibo, Jay Carroll and Clarence Wheeler; “Heinie, the Laughing Hyena” by Irving Bibo and Gus Call; “The Woody Woodpecker Waltz” by Irving Bibo and Clarence Wheeler; “My Little Brown Uke,” “The Birthday Song” by Clarence Wheeler, Gus Call and Homer Brightman; “The Cuckoo Clock Song,” “Homer Pigeon” by Clarence Wheeler and Gus Call; “Andy Panda Polka,” “Oswald the Rabbit Hop,” “The Woody Woodpecker March” by Irving Bibo and Eugene Poddany.
This is an “ultimate” Walter Lantz record album of sorts, because it combines his most famous characters with the voices of his wife Gracie, Mel Blanc and Gloria Wood, all of which hold claim to significant Lantz cartoon history.
To some, the first question that may spring to mind is, “What’s Mel Blanc doing here?” Didn’t he get shafted when his vocal creation, the “Ha-ha-ha HAA-ha!” Woody signature, was used in dozens of cartoons long after he left the studio? Didn’t “The Woody Woodpecker Song” (the first Oscar-nominated song from an animated short) become a monster novelty hit that became so because of that very hook?
According to The Walter Lantz Story by Joe Adamson, when Blanc first pursued legal action, he was laughed at, so he recorded his own version of the song. Its success—as well as the hit status of the song by other artists—rekindled his desire for compensation. His suit was taken to the L.A. Superior Court, but lost because, in Blanc’s words, “Who can copyright a laugh?”
Blanc’s appeal was cut short when Walter Lantz did something that would be considered shocking, especially today. He offered settlement to Blanc, who said, “Walter’s a very wonderful guy.” This record yields a bumper crop of Blanc voices. Blanc, Wood and Stafford occasionally overlap vocal assignments between tracks, with Blanc playing Homer Pigeon on “The Birthday Song” and Gloria Wood playing him on “Homer Pigeon,” for example.
Gloria Wood recorded the biggest hit version of “The Woody Woodpecker Song” with Harry Babbitt and Kay Kyser’s big band, and then she and Babbitt sang it over the titles of the cartoon, Wet Blanket Policy (1948). The song became so overplayed, it started to drive even Lantz a little crazy. Clearly, many of the other songs on the Decca album were created in hopes that they might repeat the success of Woody’s song (particularly “Chilly Willy the Penguin,” which featured big band singer Wee Bonnie Baker over some of Chilly’s cartoons). But none of them hit as big.
The album contains many of these songs, along with several that appeared in Lantz cartoons. Each selection is somewhat lengthy. In the style of mid-20th century recordings that were released on LP, 45 and 78 RPM singles—the length is due to the wish to fill up about three minutes on each side of a single, enabling Decca to release some songs separately. For that reason, the pace is often a little too leisurely and repetitive, with “The Woodyettes” singing similar choruses over and over, and the soloists offering verse after verse in almost every song.
It’s still solid gold for a cartoon lover, though, because it captures the ‘50s sound of Lantz cartoons, with studio musical director Clarence Wheeler handling the arrangements—plus Lantz (and former Disney) story artist Homer Brightman contributing the script and some lyrics.
MCA reissued this album in the late ‘70s on a picture disc (alongside Hanna-Barbera’s Charlotte’s Web). The sound quality was very good for a picture disc, but there were no album notes or track lists, just a little title card.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Birthday Song” and “Oswald the Rabbit Hop”
In the first song, Mel Blanc voices Oswald. In the second selection, Gloria Wood speaks and sings for the Lucky Rabbit and Mel Blanc—this time as Uncle Jack Rabbit—sings a song about a coyote that is not listed on the album. Note that both tracks are lengthy and have division points so they could also be released on multiple sides of shorter records.
WOODY WOODPECKER SONG ALBUM
Golden Records LP-112 (Mono / 12” LP / 00 minutes / 1962)
CD Reissue: Drive Entertainment GD2-47112 (1998)
Downloads: Verse Music (2014) Available on iTunes and amazon
Executive Producer: Arthur Shimkin. Musical Direction: Mitch Miller, Jimmy Carroll, Jim Timmens. Running Time: 29 minutes.
Performers: Grace Stafford Lantz (Woody Woodpecker); Dal McKennon (Inspector Willoughby); The Sandpipers, The Golden Chorus.
Songs: “The Woody Woodpecker Song” by George Tibbles and Ramey Idriss; “Saddle Sore Woody,” by Walter Greene and Paul Smith; “Cartoon Showtime,” “Space Mouse Cadet” by Walter Greene and Judy Zahler; “Popcorn Song” by Clarence Wheeler; “Hawaiyuh,” “Trudging Along” by Walter Greene and Cal Howard; “Inspector Willoughby March,” “It’s The Bearies,” “The Hill Bearies” by Darrell Calker and Judy Zahler; “The Woody Woodpecker Waltz” by Irving Bibo and Clarence Wheeler; “My Little Brown Uke” by Clarence Wheeler, Gus Call and Homer Brightman; “Andy Panda Polka,” “The Woody Woodpecker March” by Irving Bibo and Eugene Poddany; “Chilly Willy, The Penguin” by Irving Bibo, Jay Carroll and Clarence Wheeler.
Gracie Lantz appears on six songs in this LP. One of them is a ‘50s Sandpipers version of “The Woody Woodpecker Song” with her Woody voice spliced in abruptly in place of the Sandpiper member on the original recording. The other five songs are solos, recorded in the mellow vibraphonic style of Jim Timmens in the early ‘60s.
Timmens’ Golden arrangement of “Wackity Woody,” an alternate main title for Woody cartoons, was also used for end credits of Lantz TV cartoon packages, as well as on DVD releases. The “Andy Panda Polka” and “The Woody Woodpecker March” were co-written by Eugene Poddany, whose credits include Chuck Jones’ Tom and Jerry cartoons, Jones’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and RCA’s Cat in the Hat Songbook album.
Several of the songs that also appear on the Decca LP are given a different treatment by the Golden artists. Delightful and authentic as the Decca versions are, the Golden renditions are enjoyable, too. Golden needed songs to be brief in case they were released as 6” 78 RPM singles, so the Golden songs benefit from faster tempos and more energy.
This album also came along after Lantz introduced new characters, so it includes songs about Inspector Willoughby, The Bearies and Space Mouse. Golden got a lot of mileage out of these songs, as they issued them on a number of other records for about two decades.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
When NBC broadcast The Woody Woodpecker Show on Saturday mornings in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, the instrumental track of this song was used, presumably as filler for the beginning of the show.