I was at the estate sale of a rabid plate collector this morning. Her closets were filled with those collectible painted plates that were all the rage in the '80's and '90's. In another room, I found a bag full of pin-back buttons that didn't really appeal to me and in fact it took me a minute to figure out what they were. They were from a collector's plate convention in South Bend, Indiana in the early '80's and promote some of the manufacturers and depict some of the plates available that year. I know, exciting stuff, but stick with me for a moment.
The button that caught my eye and won my heart (and $3) was this button.
A Woody Woodpecker "American Gothic" parody plate was offered in 1983 to the collector's market and apparently, the man himself, Walter Lantz was present at the convention along with his wife Gracie. Both signed this button in gold ink pen.
Walter Lantz was a teenager working as an auto mechanic in the 1910's when his bulletin board doodles caught the eye of a wealthy customer, Fred Kafka, who was also a contributor to the New Yorker magazine. Mr. Kafka saw such promise in young Walter, that he paid for art training at the Art Students League of New York and also got him a job as a copy boy at The New Yorker.
In 1928, Lantz was hired by Universal Pictures and eventually took over the Oswald Rabbit animation cartoon series that had been taken from Walt Disney when he departed Universal to start his own animation studio. Lantz built a career at Universal creating a successful cartoon series with "Andy Panda".
In 1940 while on honeymoon with his wife Gracie, Walt was annoyed by the incessant pecking of a woodpecker on their roof. Gracie suggested he use that as inspiration for another character and Woody was born.
Originally voiced by Mel Blanc, Woody was later voiced by Ben "Bugs" Hardaway whose namesake graces a certain Warner Bros. rabbit. When Hardaway left the job in 1950, Walt held voice auditions. Though his wife Gracie offered to do the voice, Walt was against it, reasoning that Woody was a male and the fact might disappoint children. Not so easily defeated, Gracie made anonymous recordings of her voice and submitted them to the audition, winning the role after being chosen by her unknowing husband.
Gracie Lantz passed away in 1992. Walter died in 1994.