He was created in 1940 by Lantz and storyboard artist Ben "Bugs" Hardaway, who had previously laid the groundwork for two other screwball characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio in the late 1930s. Woody's character and design evolved over the years, from an insane bird with an unusually garish design to a more refined looking and acting character in the vein of the later Chuck Jones version of Bugs Bunny. Woody was originally voiced by prolific voice actor Mel Blanc, who was succeeded by Danny Webb, Kent Rogers, Ben Hardaway and finally Grace Stafford (wife of Walter Lantz).
Lantz produced theatrical cartoons longer than most of his contemporaries, and Woody Woodpecker remained a staple of Universal's release schedule until 1972, when Lantz finally closed down his animation studio. The character has been revived since then for special productions and occasions as well as for The New Woody Woodpecker Show, a late 1990s/early 2000s Fox Network Saturday-morning cartoon television series that featured prolific voice actor Billy West as Woody.
Woody Woodpecker cartoons were first broadcast on television in 1957 under the title The Woody Woodpecker Show, which featured Lantz cartoons bookended by new footage of Woody and live-action footage of Lantz. Woody has a motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 7000 Hollywood Boulevard. He also made a cameo appearance alongside many other famous cartoon characters in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Like Mickey Mouse of The Walt Disney Company and Bugs Bunny of Warner Bros., Woody Woodpecker is the official mascot of Universal Studios. Woody and his friends are also icons at the Universal Studios Theme Parks worldwide, as well as the PortAventura Park in the PortAventura World, Salou, Spain (they were originally brought to the park by Universal Studios, and remain there today despite Universal no longer having a financial stake in the park).
History with the Macy's Parade
Concepts of a Woody Woodpecker balloon have dated back to the 1960s, when Walter Lantz requested to have a Woody balloon in the Parade. But, Goodyear declined due to fears of lack of aerodynamics, and the project was scrapped. However, Kemp Balloons showed interest in a Woody balloon, as Goodyear had stopped making the balloons in the early 1980s. With Lantz and Kemp on the job, and Goodyear giving tips on making balloons, the Woody Woodpecker balloon was successfully completed after five months of work.
The $100,000 Woody Woodpecker balloon first appeared in the Macy's Parade in 1982, and had the honor of preceding Santa Claus himself. Despite dealing with high winds and puncturing his head just a few blocks into the parade route, Woody managed to sail to Macy's successfully. In 1983, the balloon appeared alongside parade veteran Bullwinkle to celebrate the opening of a Macy's store in Aventura, Florida. The 270,000 square foot store was so large, it could contain the 75 by 45-foot balloon with ease. Later that year, he managed a successful sophomore flight, appearing alongside creator Walter Lantz and his wife Gracie.
The tricky bird won his way into the hearts of Parade watchers, and soon proved to be just as successful a balloon as the Goodyear classic that preceded him. Through wind, rain, and even a near-decapitation, Woody always stuck around long enough to reach Herald Square. Woody retired after the 1996 Parade, having made fifteen flights in all.
Size restrictions were introduced in 1998, meaning that the balloons could no longer exceed 70 feet in height, 78 feet in length, or 40 feet in width. As Woody was 75 feet tall and 45 feet wide, the widest balloon known to ever be made for the Parade, his balloon has been banned from making any further reappearances. As Woody has faded into obscurity, no redesign has been introduced since then.
However, despite the new rules, the balloon reappeared as a decoration for the Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Orlando Resort, alongside many other balloons, as part of the long-gone Balloonopolis attraction. Perhaps due to the balloon's large size, only the head was inflated at the event. The balloon has not been seen since, although it still survives as of 2016.
Before the balloon was created, a walk around appeared in the 1976 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A more permanent addition walkaround woodpecker was the addition of a walk-around version of him and his girlfriend Winnie Woodpecker on the Toon Trolley float and the Pep Cheers float. The walkarounds were retired after the 2015 Holiday Parade, as the parade would be rebranded into Universal's Holiday Parade Featuring Macy's two years later.
- Woody Woodpecker Theme Song (1982-1996)
As he was one of the tallest and widest balloons to ever appear in the parade, he was one of the most difficult balloons to fly. As such, he had a number of incidents throughout the time span in which he was used:
- In 1982, Woody was lowered to the ground after puncturing his head.
- In 1984, Woody got snagged by a tree at the start, but was freed and did not get damaged.
- In 1985, Woody tore a hole in his coxcomb the night before the parade, but the hole was repaired in time. His legs however deflated during the march, and his hand was also ripped.
- In 1986, a lamppost nearly ripped Woody's head clean off his body, and his head was partly separated when his handlers tried to pull the balloon away from trees, at the entrance of Times Square his hand hit a lamppost but wasn't damaged, but he survived. The wind also pushed his feet into tree branches, and by the time he got to Herald Square, they were both deflated.
- In 1988, Woody got snagged by a tree at one point of the route for nearly an entire hour, but was freed.
- In 1993, Woody's hand was ripped by a tree, causing the balloon to slowly deflate, so it needed to be lowered to the ground.
- In 1994, his start was delayed. He was originally going to be behind the AMC float but he was pushed back to the Dunkin' Donuts float for unknown reasons.
- In 1996, unexpected "wind demons" caused Woody's right hand to be ripped by a tree.
- Usually, one of Woody's arms would be bent during his appearances, with the right one being bent the most frequently.
- In 1989, Woody's left eye pupil was scratched, possibly due to the heavy snow, and his tail was also deflated.
- The Woody balloon's feet were orange, which is inconsistent with his animated appearance; his feet are actually yellow. Curiously, the feet of the model was painted yellow and the poster for the 1994 Parade as well.
- Woody Woodpecker was the only balloon that was produced by Kemp Balloons that lasted over a decade.
- During the timespan of Woody's use, a sound clip of Woody Woodpecker's laugh was heard during the NBC telecast whenever the balloon was on camera, with hosts like Willard Scott trying to do an impression of the character's iconic laugh.
- Woody Woodpecker is the widest balloon to ever debut in the Parade's history, being 45 feet wide.