Walter Benjamin Lantz (April 27, 1899 – March 22, 1994) was an American cartoonist, animator, film producer, and director, best known for founding Walter Lantz Productions and creating Woody Woodpecker.
Lantz was born in New Rochelle, New York to Italian immigrant parents, Francesco Paolo Lantz (formerly Lanza) and Maria Gervasi from Calitri. According to Joe Adamson's biography, The Walter Lantz Story, Lantz's father was given his new surname by an immigration official who Anglicized it. Walter Lantz was always interested in art, completing a mail order drawing class at age twelve. He saw his first animation when he watched Winsor McCay's cartoon short, Gertie the Dinosaur.
While working as an auto mechanic Lantz got his first break. A wealthy customer named Fred Kafka liked his drawings on the garage's bulletin board and financed Lantz's studies at the Art Students League. Kafka also helped him get a job as a copy boy at the New York American, owned by William Randolph Hearst. Lantz worked at the newspaper and attended art school at night.
By the age of 16, Lantz was working in the animation department under director Gregory La Cava. Lantz then worked at the John R. Bray Studios on the Jerry On The Job series. In 1924, Lantz directed, animated, and even starred in his first cartoon series, Dinky Doodle, and shortly after he replaced George "Vernon" Stallings as head of production (During the 1920s, Bray began to concentrate in beating Hal Roach as the "king of two-reelers"). He moved to Hollywood, California after Bray switched to a publicity film studio in 1927, where he worked briefly for director Frank Capra and was a gag writer for Mack Sennett comedies.
Some of the characters in the Lantz universe (both cartoons and comics) are Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (formerly), Space Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, Homer Pigeon, Chilly Willy, Charlie Chicken, Wally Walrus and many more.
In 1959 Lantz was honored by the Los Angeles City Council as "one of America's most outstanding animated film cartoonists".
In 1973 the international animation society, ASIFA/Hollywood, presented him with its Annie Award.
In 1979 he was given a special Academy Award "for bringing joy and laughter to every part of the world through his unique animated motion pictures", being the second animator to receive this award (the first was Walt Disney — who received it three times —, while Chuck Jones became in 1995 the third — and latest one — to receive the merit).
In 1986 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.